American researchers are well on their way to develop a unique battery-free pacemaker, powered by the heart itself.
Conventional pacemakers are put beneath the skin by making a small incision in the chest. These require leads or wires to connect the battery to the pacemaker, which conveys electrical signals to stimulate the heart.
Now, a research team is developing a new pacemaker that will be placed right inside the heart itself which will depend on a battery but will not require wires to keep the heart functional.
Instead, it will depend upon a piezoelectric system which transforms the vibrational energy – generated inside the heart with each heartbeat - into electricity that powers the pacemaker.
M. Amin Karami, assistant professor at the University of Buffalo and lead author of this study, had the idea of creating battery-free pacemakers while doing PhD work on piezoelectric applications for unmanned aerial vehicles and bridges. He wanted to try it in the human body and found the heart to be the best choice due to the organ's relative strength and constant motion.
"To see the heart in motion – even an animation – is to be awestruck," he said.
Karami originally developed a flat piezoelectric structure for a conventional pacemaker. A prototype of the pacemaker delivered enough power to run the device at a range of 7 to 700 beats per minute. After the creation of battery-free pacemakers, he refurbished the design to fit the tube-shaped conventional device.
However, he isn't the first one to have got this idea. Designs from 1960s that Karami found proved that researchers endeavoured the same, but failed to go forward due to the absence of proper scientific knowledge and modern technology accessible today.
Currently, Karami is in talks with device-makers, besides building the new prototypes of the battery-free pacemakers and expects tests on animals to be performed within the next two years. Once finished, it would be up for human clinical trials and finally await approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
If it receives approval, the technology is expected to curb the medical costs, inconvenience and even risks of having battery replacement every 5 to 12 years for millions of pacemaker dependent people.
Wireless pacemakers that have been succesfully developed are in the first stages of clinical trials in Australia, Canada and the United States. A battery-free pacemaker is also in the making in Switzerland at the University of Berne.