Researchers have revealed a prototype that could change life-saving pacemakers by harnessing energy stored in the heart. While researching, of all things, unmanned flight, scientists discovered that the heart’s own beat could hold the key to a battery-free pacemaker. That’s a surprising discovery, and implementation is far in the future. Yet, if it works, it will mean great things for pacemaker patients.
The pacemaker is one of the most used heart devices in the world. There are at least three million people with one right now. Every year more than 350 million are implanted. Many of these patients are aging or elderly, and many others are children who will live with this device their entire lives.
Aerospace Study Leads to Discovery
Michigan’s Department of Aerospace Engineering researchers were investigating how an unmanned plane could use harness power from its own vibrations, according to HealthTech Zone. Essentially, they were building on a process that was discovered in 1880. French scientists Jacque and Pierre Curie were the first to demonstrate that a charge can mount up in crystals. The aerospace researchers were trying to find applications for air travel by looking at the energy from aircraft wing vibrations.
When researchers applied this idea to the pacemaker, they discovered through an artificial test process that the heartbeat was generating and storing energy. In fact, according to their findings, the energy is ten times that needed to power a pacemaker. The tiny mechanism that they have devised would be 1/100th of an inch thick. It would be made of a ceramic material. The researchers also intend to use magnets to increase the signal, according to Michigan Engineering.
There are many obstacles. Hearts beat at different rates, and it may be difficult to calibrate the device to deal with these differences. Scientists will have to be 100 percent sure that the device will work before implementation.
What would this mean for patients? For one, it would reduce the size of the pacemaker. The battery is one of its biggest parts. With that taken away, the size can drop drastically. In fact, the University of Michigan prototype is not as big as a penny. This smaller size will make it less invasive for patients.
For another, a battery-free pacemaker will allay the surgery fears of many patients and their families. At present, replacing the battery means the risk of surgery. Since this must happen every five years at best, this surgery brings risks for patients, especially children, the chronically ill, and the elderly. These are risks that increase with the passing of time and each new surgery. With a battery-free system, they would not need surgery for new batteries. If this technology becomes a reality, more than three million people and their families will breathe a sigh of lasting relief.