Human heartbeats could soon power pacemakers, eliminating costly replacements


According to a new study, 'piezoelectricity' — specifically electricity generated through pressure — could be the next stage in pacemaker technology, eliminating the need for surgeries to replace pacemakers as their batteries run down.

Presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2012, the research shows that energy-harvesting devices that generate electricity from motion could gather enough electricity from the motion of a beating heart to provide enough power to run a pacemaker or defibrillator that keeps the heart beating properly. According to the lead researcher, M. Amin Karami, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan, current pacemakers need to be replaced every five to seven years.

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"Many of the patients are children who live with pacemakers for many years," he said, according to Science Daily. "You can imagine how many operations they are spared if this new technology is implemented."

Karami and his team, consisting of Dr David J. Bradley, and Daniel J. Inman, Ph.D., first measured the vibrations produced by the human heart, and then reproduced them in the lab by hooking up a 'shaker' to a 'non-linear, bi-stable energy-harvesting device' of their design. Testing 100 simulated heartbeats at different heart-rates, they found that the vibrations generated over 10 times the energy required by modern pacemakers. The team investigated various types of energy harvesters, but found that the non-linear, bi-stable hybrid device worked over the widest range of heart rates, without the interruptions that linear harvesters suffer during changes in heart-rate, while still providing the required energy.

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The researchers' next step will be to test an implanted energy harvester, and they hope to integrate their device into current pacemaker technology in the near future.