Scientists have developed pacemakers that can be powered by the energy of heartbeats, and successfully tested the device in pigs. The study, published in the journal ACS Nano, is a step towards making a self-powered cardiac pacemaker, researchers said.
Implantable pacemakers have altered modern medicine, saving countless lives by regulating heart rhythm. However, one serious shortcoming is that their batteries last only five to 12 years, at which point they have to be replaced surgically, researcher said.
Researchers from Second Military Medical University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China worked on overcoming this problem. A conventional pacemaker is implanted just under the skin near the collarbone. Its battery and circuitry generate electrical signals that are delivered to the heart via implanted electrodes.
Since surgery to replace the battery can lead to complications, including infection and bleeding, various researchers have tried to build pacemakers that use the natural energy of heartbeats as an alternative energy source.
However, these experimental devices are not powerful enough because of their rigid structure, difficulties with miniaturisation and other drawbacks. The team, designed a small, flexible plastic frame which was bonded to piezoelectric layers. These generate energy when bent. They implanted the device in pigs and showed that a beating heart could in fact alter the frame’s shape, generating enough power to match the performance of a battery-powered pacemaker.