SUNDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Implantable pacemakers have been around for more than 50 years, but they've always had one drawback: batteries that need to be replaced. Now, there are early signs that a device that gains power from the patient's own heartbeat might change all that.
The "energy harvester" device uses magnets plus vibrations from within the chest cavity to create energy sufficient to power a pacemaker, its developers report.
Right now, replacing a worn-out pacemaker battery requires major surgery that must happen about every seven years. That means that "if the patient starts with a pacemaker at age 2, which is not uncommon, then we are talking about 10 open-heart surgeries throughout their life," noted co-researcher David Inman, chair of the department of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
So, the advent of a battery-free pacemaker "would be a huge savings in terms of either reducing the number of operations, or completely eliminating them," he said. "It would also be a huge saving in terms of medical costs."
Details on the research are set to be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Los Angeles.
According to Inman, the energy-harvesting device is the brainchild of co-researcher M. Amin Karami, a postdoctoral researcher working with Inman at the university. The tiny device is about half the size of a conventional pacemaker battery and utilizes piezoelectricity -- an electrical charge that's generated from motion -- plus a small magnetic field.
"These two effects together take the natural vibrations inside the chest cavity, which are caused by the heart beating, and change it into electricity which then runs the pacemaker," Inman explained.
He stressed that the research remains at an early stage. Estimates of the power available to the device once implanted in a p
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