Pacemakers are lifesavers, but they have a downside: every seven years or so a pacemaker’s battery must be replaced, requiring surgery – with all the risks and costs that surgery comes with. But all of that could change with a new heartbeat-powered piezoelectric pacemaker developed by researchers at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. The device can theoretically run for as long as a patient is alive, and it is half the size of traditional pacemaker batteries, so it is less invasive.
The piezoelectric device is able to harvest electrical energy from motion. As the heart beats, it creates a powerful vibration in the body. The team was able to capture that vibration using magnets, and the energy is then stored for use. In testing, the device was able to capture 10 times the amount of energy needed to run a pacemaker.
In order to figure out how much energy the heart can produce, researchers measured the vibrations caused by the heartbeat in the chest. They then reproduced this movement in a “shaker” in the laboratory, to which they hooked up the device. Researchers tested energy created by various heart rates – anywhere from 20 to 600 a minute – to make sure that the device could perform in different bodies.
Cell phones and microwaves won’t impact the device, and the technology is so promising that researchers hope to develop devices that can be used in other cardiac tools, such as implantable defibrillators. The device is currently in the testing phase and researchers hope to eventually use the technology in commercial pacemakers.