Researchers at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles (CHLA) recently developed the first fully implantable micro-pacemaker for unborn babies with complete heart block.

Heart block is a defect in the heart’s electrical system that slows the ability of the heart to pump blood in utero.

“Up until now, the pacemaker devices that have been used in an attempt to treat this condition in a fetus were designed for adults,” said Yaniv Bar-Cohen, MD, pediatric cardiologist at CHLA. “We have lacked an effective treatment option for fetuses.”

Approximately 500 pregnancies in the U.S. are affected annually by fetal heart block. All attempts to treat the condition with a standard pacemaker have so far failed.

Because adult pacemakers are far too big for unborn babies, doctors would implant a small part of the device while the rest would remain external. However, fetal movement caused the electric conductors to become dislodged from the heart, making it ineffective.

“We now have a pacemaker that can be implanted in utero, potentially without harm to the fetus or the mom,” said Ramen H. Chmait, MD, Director of the CHLA  Institute for Maternal-Fetal Health. “This novel device provides a real opportunity to prevent miscarriage and premature birth in babies affected with these abnormalities.”

The pacemaker has undergone preclinical testing and doctors anticipate that the first human use will be in the near future.

Hana is currently pursuing an undergraduate English degree with a Spanish minor at Concordia University Portland. She loves creative writing and reading children's books and someday hopes to publish her own. Favorite hobbies include cooking, cleaning, eating ice cream, and singing Disney princess songs.