Wireless pacemaker that runs on heartbeats

A team of US researchers has developed a wireless pacemaker that uses heartbeats as a source of power.

Pacemaker batteries typically last between 6 and 15 years. They can be embedded in a patient’s left shoulder with wires to the heart to charge the pacemaker, or directly in the heart in a wireless or leadless pacemaker. Changing the battery requires surgery and can be particularly complicated in a leadless pacemaker.

Pacemakers powered by heartbeats are not a new concept, but it’s difficult to find a way to efficiently convert mechanical energy from heartbeats into the electricity the pacemaker needs.

“Mechanical and electrical energy are linked and can be exchanged back and forth,” says research lead Associate Professor Babak Nazer, from the University of Washington in Seattle, US.

“Just like ultrasound converts electrical voltage into pressure or sound, we can engineer similar materials onto implantable medical devices to convert the heart’s natural oscillating pressures ‘backward’ into voltage to prolong battery life.”

The research team used piezoelectric materials – crystals that can convert mechanical energy into electricity – to make 3 prototype pacemakers.

When tested on a machine that simulates heartbeats, the best of the prototypes could collect about 10% of the energy needed to stimulate another heartbeat.

“Our next step is to optimise materials and fabrication to improve energy harvesting efficiency, and then show we can do so consistently in long-term studies,” says Nazer.

“When we can improve upon our 10% harvesting efficiency, we hope to partner with one of the major pacemaker companies to incorporate our design and housing into an existing leadless pacemaker.

“We hope to prolong battery life further and expand access of this product to younger patients, who would hopefully require fewer implants over their lifetime.”

Nazer and colleagues have presented their research at the 2023 Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association.

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