Cardiac implants, such as pacemakers and cardioverter defibrillators, have limited lifetimes because they’re powered by batteries that cannot be recharged. Replacement surgeries are required roughly every ten years, creating difficulties for patients, many of whom are already fragile, and incurring a huge cost on the healthcare system.
Engineers at Dartmouth, working with clinicians at University of Texas Health San Antonio, have developed and tested an electricity generator that uses the heart as its source of energy. Perhaps one day this technology will be powering cardiac implants indefinitely, saving patients from having successive surgeries and significantly bringing down the overall cost of such therapies.
The technology relies on piezoelectric thin-film energy conversion materials that are integrated with the electrode leads that are attached to the heart. As the heart pumps, the leads move back and forth and the piezoelectric mechanism generates electric signals every time the heart contracts and expands.
According to a study by the researchers published in Advanced Materials Technologies, their current prototype is able to generate 0.5 V and 43 nA when a simulated heart pumps at one beat per second. This can be boosted with an additional “proof mass” of only 32 mg to generate almost double the power output, though that would put a somewhat greater demand on the heart.
All the components of the new system are biocompatible, and the design is made to take little space around the heart. There’s still more work to be done to optimize the energy conversion and to further scale the technology down to size. Nevertheless, as the first round of animal studies has shown, there’s a good chance that we’ll soon see cardiac implants that last for the entirety of a patient’s lifetime.
Here’s one of the lead researchers of the technology showing off how it works:
Study in Advanced Materials Technologies: Flexible Porous Piezoelectric Cantilever on a Pacemaker Lead for Compact Energy Harvesting…