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Jun 10, 2019,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Researchers create a battery-free pacemaker powered by heartbeats

Pacemaker wearers may soon be freed from the need to undergo surgery to have batteries replaced. Researchers have successfully tested a battery-free pacemaker on pigs. The ground-breaking device uses what is called an iTENG (implantable triboelectric nanogenerator) to transform the patient’s heartbeat into energy.


A new generation of pacemaker powered by heartbeats alone has given patients hope of one day having a pacemaker implanted for life rather than undergo surgery every few years to have the device’s batteries replaced. Presented by its designers in a study published in Nature on 23 April, the prototype of a symbiotic cardiac pacemaker (SPM) could prevent the need for such surgery.


Trialled on pigs’ hearts


This comes as good news for pacemaker wearers as the batteries that power their devices have a lifetime of between six and 12 years, depending on the type of product and their pathologies, as reported by the website Clubic.

It will be some time, however, before the device is made available to patients. US and Chinese researchers have been trialling it on adult pig hearts that are approximately the same size as human hearts.


Improvements needed


“There is still a long way to go [before this can be] used in humans,” Zhou Li, a co-author of the study, told Digital Trends. “Some technical challenges are needed to be solved. To meet the minimally invasive implantation process and better comfort long-term operation in vivo, it is necessary to develop an iTENG [that is] small in size, high energy density, [has] efficient fixation with bio-tissue, and long-term biosafety. It depends on developments of material science, micro and nano-fabrication technologies, and electronic techniques.”

The 'iTENG represents a major technological development in terms of the manufacture of a battery-free pacemaker and other medical devices for administering substances or muscular or cerebral stimulation. The innovation may also be used with a host of other smart devices using portable technologies and which currently require recharging on a regular basis.


Stabilising the heart rate to produce more energy


Zhou explained that thanks to its nanogenerator, the SPM “converts biomechanical energy from the heart beating to electricity for powering the pacing module [as it sends] pulses. The abnormal heart can be corrected by these pulses, and the recovered heart will provide more energy for SPM.”

Another encouraging development is that the measurements made by the study’s authors show that the iTENG has an energy output that reaches – and even exceeds – the threshold needed for a commercial medical human pacemaker.


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