discoveries magazine

Pacemakers: An Evolution

1. Mid- to late 1960s 2. Late 1960s/early 1970s 3. 1970s 4. Early 1960s 5. Late 1970s 6. Early 1980s 7. Current 8. Late 1970s 9. Current (implantable cardiac defibrillator) Photograph: Rachael Porter, featuring the collection of Howard Allen, MD

If the heart is the body’s motor, then it’s fitting that the first wearable pacemaker was born in a garage. Crafted in 1957 by an engineering school dropout, the first-generation model used circuitry built for metronomes to help patients who were suffering from slow or irregular heartbeats. Implantable pacemakers soon followed. Over the decades, the device has evolved into a small, safe, versatile tool that restores normal heart function using electricity. And the beat goes on: Cedars-Sinai investigators are developing a minimally invasive gene-therapy approach that would coax normal heart cells to signal the heart to pump at a regular pace. This “biological pacemaker” could one day eliminate the need for electric pacemakers—which can malfunction and cause infection—and keep the human engine humming along with fewer tune-ups.