NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Implantable electronic pacemakers are some of the most common heart procedures done every year. But what if doctors could turn your own cells into pacemakers?

Around 300,000 pacemakers are implanted every year in the United States, which help regulate potentially lethal heart rhythm abnormalities. But the surgery comes with risks, many of which can be avoided by using your own cells as pacemakers, CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported.

Cardiologist and Director of the Cedar Sinai Heart Institute Eduardo Marban has developed a new gene therapy procedure that would use a patient’s own cells to help speed up an abnormally slow heart rate. That could eliminate the need for electronic pacemakers.

“They can go in, get a quick procedure and be cured for life,” Marban told Gomez.

The minimally invasive treatment, which has so far only been tested on animals, changes heart muscle cells into cells that act like a biological pacemaker. The new cells naturally generate the electrical impulses needed to set a healthy heart rate and get enough blood flowing through the body.

“We are creating a new structure within the heart that’s capable of setting a beat, like a metronome,” Marban said. “We go in with a catheter, a thin tube, that has a needle inside it, and using a very focal gene injection, we can get the heart beat to initiate.

Researchers at Cedar Sinai Heart Institute hope their work can one day be used to help babies who are born with congenital heart problems.

Marban said the new treatment could even help babies still in the womb, where traditional pacemakers can’t be used.

“We can think about a day where we might be able to just put in a gene and fix their hearts forever,” he said.

Clinical trials could begin within the next three years.

You Might Also Be Interested In:

Watch & Listen LIVE