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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Powering your pacemaker with heartbeats

Millions of people live long productive lives thanks to the pacemakers within their chests.  Unfortunately, those pacemakers are currently battery-powered, and the batteries last no more than ten years.  Consequently, patients with pacemakers have to have new batteries surgically installed on a regular basis.  That may be changing, thanks to the efforts of Amin Karami and Daniel Inman of the University of Michigan.  They’re working on a way to use the vibrational energy of the heartbeats themselves to power pacemakers.

Thus far, the researchers have been optimizing the structures and materials necessary for such a device.  They’ve been able to develop a model that delivers more than enough power to maintain a pacemaker at heartbeats ranging from 7 to 700 beats per minute.  In other words, if a person’s heart is beating at all, the pacemaker will work.  Since it’s the job of the pacemaker to see that the heart continues to beat, once the system is running it should be just as good as a conventional battery. 

To be clear, the engineers are only at the mathematical model stage of testing their idea.  The next step would be to build a prototype, and then try it in an animal model.  Not until then will we know whether the system might be beneficial for humans. I'm sure many cardiac patients share my hope that it will be.

Image: Pacemaker and electrode
Photo by Steven Fruitsmaak, 10/13/2007.

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