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Heartbeat Vibrations Found Feasible to Power Pacemakers

Amin Karami (University of Michigan)

Amin Karami (University of Michigan)

Engineers at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor developed a device that can harvest enough energy from a beating heart to power an implanted pacemaker. Michigan engineering research fellow Amin Karami (pictured right) and colleague Daniel Inman presented their findings yesterday at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Los Angeles.

Pacemakers help regulate an otherwise irregular heartbeat and require only a small amount of power to do their job. Most of the bulk devoted to a pacemaker is taken up with the battery, which lasts five to seven years and requires surgery to replace. “Many of the patients are children who live with pacemakers for many years,” says Karami. “You can imagine how many operations they are spared if this new technology is implemented.”

Karami and colleagues created a device that can capture the vibrations caused by a human heartbeat and convert those vibrations into electric power, using a process called piezoelectricity. As part of their research, the Michigan team measured heartbeat-induced vibrations in the chest, then simulated those vibrations in the laboratory.

In their experiments. the researchers found their prototype cardiac energy harvester could capture and convert these simulated heartbeat vibrations to electric power. In sets of 100 simulated heartbeats at various heart rates, the device prototype was able to generate more than 10 times the power than modern pacemakers require.

The Michigan device uses magnets to enhance power production and make the energy harvesting mechanism less sensitive to heart rate changes. This non-linear function, as it’s called, is important with fluctuating heart rates, the very condition pacemakers are called up on to correct. The prototype device was shown to generate sufficient power for a pacemaker at simulated heartbeats of 20 to 600 beats per minute.

The next step in the development process will be to implant their energy harvester, which Karami says about half the size of batteries now used in pacemakers. If successful, the researchers hope to integrate their technology into commercial pacemakers.

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Disclosure: the author wears a pacemaker.

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