Harnessing energy directly from the heart would make leadless pacemakers last forever

Battery-free pacemaker to be powered by heart

Battery-free pacemakers harnessing energy directly from the pumping of the heart could be ready for human trials in two years, researchers said. 

Based on a piezoelectric system that converts vibrational energy into electricity, the concept of the heart-powered pacemaker has been developed by researchers at the University at Buffalo and could eliminate the need to replace batteries inside the life-saving devices.

To replace a battery in a pacemaker obviously requires additional surgical procedures that are inherently risky and costly.

"Essentially, we're creating technology that will allow pacemakers to be powered by the very heart that they are regulating," said M. Amin Karami, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who is leading the research.

"To see the heart in motion - even an animation - is to be awestruck. It moves significantly. In turn, that movement creates energy that we're just now figuring out how to harvest."

Karami first stumbled on the idea of a heart-powered pacemaker while developing piezoelectric applications for unmanned aerial vehicles and bridges. Further research led him to a discovery that scientists have been attempting to harness the energy of the heart since 1960s. However, technological obstacles back then were too significant to take the concept any further.

Karami originally designed a piezoelectric system for a conventional pacemaker that is inserted under the skin on the chest and leads electrical impulses into the heart through electrical wires.

Recently, he has upgraded the system to fit the leadless pacemakers that appeared in 2013. As the leadless pacemakers are inserted directly into the heart, they need to be smaller. Thanks to their more efficient design, these pacemakers don’t require as frequent battery replacements as the conventional pacemakers. Yet the researchers believe the technology would still benefit from doing away with the battery altogether.

The team is already working on a prototype and is in talks with pacemaker manufacturers. Karami said he hopes to have animal testing completed in two years and start human testing soon after.

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