Pacemakers and ICD's have gone through a lot of innovation since their introduction over 50 years ago, but one component has changed little over the years -- their source of power. Just about all pacemakers and ICDs use batteries to power their lifesaving circuits. It's true that batteries have shrunk over the years, and their lifespan has increased, but once they die (typically in five to 10 years), they need to be replaced.
All this may change soon, thanks to a concept from University of Michigan researchers Daniel Inman and Amin Karami. They've developed a device that powers a standard implantable pacemaker using the body's own heartbeat vibrations. Here's how the concept will work: The vibrations from a heartbeat deform a tiny slice of piezoelectric ceramic, a material that can convert mechanical stress into an electric voltage. Magnets in the device also help boost this voltage, which in turn powers the pacemaker that keeps the heart going.
Amazingly, Inman and Karami claim that the device will operate in the range of seven to 700 beats per minute, well below and above the range of someone's normal heart rate; and even at an extremely low heart rate, it will always generate more power than the pacemaker requires. The new device can generate up to 10 microwatts of power, which is about eight times the amount a typical pacemaker needs to operate.
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This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.
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