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February 8, 2019updated 12 Aug 2019 11:22am

Heart power harnessed to recharge medical devices

Implantable medical devices are life-changing, but their need for charging can be a problem. However, engineers may have a solution: heart power.

Implantable medical devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators are life-changing, but their need for frequent charging can be a problem. However, engineers may have a solution in the form of heart power.

Researchers from Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College have developed a small device about the size of a US dime or a UK 5p coin that harnesses the heart’s motion and converts it into power.

The amount of kinetic energy produced by the heart is significant enough that the device can be used to recharge the batteries in a host of implantable medical devices. These include some of the most commonly used life-saving devices, such as pacemakers and defibrillators.

The technology has the potential to eliminate the need for regular surgeries, which are currently required every five to ten years to replace batteries in such devices.

How heart power could fix the “ultimate problem” for medical devices

The device has been developed with the goal of putting an end to such surgeries, meaning it has the potential to be game-changing for the medical device industry.

“We’re trying to solve the ultimate problem for any implantable biomedical device,” explained study lead and Dartmouth engineering professor John X.J. Zhang.

“How do you create an effective energy source so the device will do its job during the entire lifespan of the patient, without the need for surgery to replace the battery?”

Created with support from clinicians at the University of Texas in San Antonio, the device is modified from a pacemaker, with an additional polymer film capable of converting mechanical motion into electricity, allowing it to harness heart power.

It also has the potential to be used as a sensor, allowing data to be collected in real-time and aid the long-term monitoring of at-risk patients.

However, it is also designed to avoid any impact on the heart itself, ensuring it is safe to be used in patients.

“Of equal importance is that the device not interfere with the body’s function,” said study first author and Dartmouth research associate Lin Dong.

“We knew it had to be biocompatible, lightweight, flexible, and low profile, so it not only fits into the current pacemaker structure but is also scalable for future multi-functionality.”

Developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the project is in relatively early stages, having only been trialled in animals at present.

However, it is already generating significant interest from major medical companies, and is expected to be commercially available in around five years.

Read more: World Cancer Day: three promising therapies for neglected rare cancers

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