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Keeping the beat

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12:52pm, December 3, 2002

From Chicago, Ill., at a meeting of the American Heart Association

Pacemakers have done wonders for heart patients, but some doctors envision replacing these gadgets with cells that can keep hearts beating. Toward that end, researchers have reported that muscle cells taken from embryonic rats and put into an adult rat's heart can transmit the electric signals that govern the heartbeat.

"The cells have survived in rats for more than a year, and they appear to have made connections with cardiac [heart] cells," says lead researcher Douglas B. Cowan of Children's Hospital in Boston.

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