Researchers from several institutions in the U.S. and Tsinghua University in China have developed a new implantable generator that can convert heartbeats into energy. The device utilizes a nanoribbon piezoelectric element, and it can be placed on the heart to draw enough energy from the organ’s natural motion to power a pacemaker or other implantable devices. Yes, we are that much closer to becoming cyborgs.
The new device is made of lead zirconate titanate nanoribbons wrapped in a flexible, biocompatible plastic. Doctors sew the nanoribbon device directly to the patient’s heart, lung, or diaphragm. As the body parts move the ribbons bend slightly creating small amounts of electricity. The scientists report that they were able to create enough electricity to power a pacemaker or other implantable device indefinitely.
Currently most implantable devices require a battery to power them and when the unit runs out of power, surgeons need to open the patient back up to replace it. However, this implantable device can generate energy for as long as the patient is alive, allowing it to run for a lifetime and preventing the need for additional surgeries.
Thus far, the device has been tested on cows and other large animals. Clinical trials have not started as researchers are still checking whether suturing devices onto important organs causes damage. Long-term testing will evaluate how long the devices can survive inside patients. For future improvements, the doctors want to find a replacement for lead since the device places the toxic substance so close to vital organs.
Images © University of Illinois and University of Arizona