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Bye bye battery? One day your heart might power your pacemaker

November 05, 2012|By Eryn Brown | Los Angeles Times

Researchers reported Sunday that it may soon be possible to power a pacemaker by a patient’s beating heart.

The team, which presented its work at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2012 in Los Angeles, developed an energy harvesting device that someday might take the vibrations created by a heartbeat and convert them into enough electrical energy to power a pacemaker, said lead author M. Amin Karami, a research fellow in the department of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

That may save many patients from repeated surgeries, he said.

Pacemakers, which are usually implanted in the chest, are used to control abnormal heart rhythms. One of the major problems with the devices in use today is that their batteries typically run out of juice after  five to seven years of operation.  For younger people with pacemakers, that means enduring repeated surgeries to implant replacements.  But a pacemaker that harvested its own energy might be able to operate indefinitely.

“If we had a mechanism to generate this small amount of power, you’d never have to recharge it,” said Karami, in a video released by the American Heart Association (and available for viewing above.)

According to their research abstract, Karami and his colleagues first measured images of cardiac wall motion to estimate the vibrations created by a beating heart.  Then, they used a mechanical shaking device to reproduce the same amount of vibration. 

Taking a piezoelectric harvester — a harvester made with a smart material that can generate electricity when stretched or pushed out of shape — and mounting it on their shaker, they recorded how much power they could produce over 100 heart beats at differing heart rates.

The team’s energy harvester was able to generate more than 10 times the power required to operate a pacemaker, as long as heart rate was between 20 and 600 beats per minute.  At just over an inch square, it was about half the size of the batteries used in today’s pacemakers. 

The team does not yet have a prototype pacemaker using the energy harvester, Karami said, and will need to conduct safety testing in animals and humans.

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