Harnessing the Heartbeat to Power Pacemakers

Posted by Brian Buntz on November 7, 2012

Once implanted, a pacemaker can stay in the body for about five to 15 years before its battery life runs out. At that point, a surgeon must replace the battery or insert a new pacemaker. Such procedures could be averted entirely, however, if pacemakers drew power from the heart beat itself. Researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded that the heartbeat could supply 10 times more than enough piezoelectricity to power a current generation pacemaker. The technology could also be used to power devices such as implantable defibrillators. 

Interestingly, the research was a spinoff from research to power wireless sensors from the vibration of aircraft wings. The technology works by harvesting energy from the vibration of the chest cavity that is a result of the heart beat. That vibration can then be captured and transduced into electrical energy. Led by M. Amin Karami, PhD, a research fellow in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, the researchers are using the money from a grant from the university's medical school to develop a prototype device using data gathered from open-heart surgeries. 

 Brian Buntz is the editor-at-large at UBM Canon's medical group. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz