Hee Cheol Cho, director of research at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, discusses his research on heart rhythm. In his work, the biology of the pacemaker cells in the heart are studied and bioengineering principles are engaged to create innovative therapies to restore the heart rhythm. The translational goal for this research is to develop biological pacemakers for patients with an irregular heart rate, and the work aims to create bioengineering solutions for pediatric cardiac pacing so that patients can survive and thrive.
Learn more about this research. My name is Joel Co. I'm an associate professor and the Director of research at the Blaylock Taussig Thomas, pediatric and congenital Heart Center. The topic of our research is the heart rhythm. The heart is an incredibly fascinating organ because each and every heartbeat starts as a tiny electricity and the tiny electricity starts from a group of cells called pacemaker cells. You can think of these pacemaker cells as the drummer of a marching band or the conductor of an orchestra. We study the biology of these pacemaker cells. What goes wrong when our heart rate is not regular and we engage bioengineering principles to come up with innovative therapies to restore the heart rhythm. The current state of the art for the patients whose heart rate is too slow is to get an implant, implantable pacemaker devices. These pacemakers have gone through generations of improvements over the last decades and they work really well. But it is safe to say that these devices are far from the natural pacemakers that we are born with. One of the translational goals that we have is to develop biological pacemakers for patients whose heart rate is too slow. One of the ways that we do this is to bioengineer pacemaker cells from the patient's heart by injecting a natural human gene. And that would be the gene therapy. Alternatively, we use stem cell technologies to create patient specific pacemaker cells in the dish. By converting the patient's own cells. I began to recognize that the pediatric and congenital heart disease patients among the most vulnerable to the inherent problems of the device dependent cardiac pacing. In fact, even when the devices work as intended, the implantable cardiac pacing devices are far from ideal for these small pediatric patients. My research is directly aimed at creating bioengineered solutions for pediatric cardiac pacing so that our neediest patients can not only survive but also thrive.