A way to charge pacemakers using the heart’s own muscle

Mar 21, 2019

FOR THOSE whose hearts occasionally go off rhythm, pacemakers are, quite literally, life savers. By providing a small electrical jolt at the right moment, they can keep a heart working at the appropriate pace. Their main drawback is that they use batteries. Even the best of them eventually run out of energy, and replacing the batteries requires surgery.

Since surgery is generally best avoided, the search has been on for long-lasting power sources. Various options have been explored, including, in the 1970s, plutonium. Nuclear-powered pacemakers have thankfully fallen out of fashion and today, devices with lithium batteries last between 5 and 15 years. Zhang Hao of the Second Military Medical University, in Shanghai, and Yang Bin of Shanghai Jiao Tong University sought a way of recharging a pacemaker’s battery by scavenging energy from inside the body. As they report in the journal ACS Nano they have used the heart muscle itself to power a tiny generator.

Previous attempts to use cardiac muscle power to run pacemakers relied on piezoelectric materials. These release electrons when deformed, and can be attached to beating hearts so that they are slightly bent with each heart beat, generating electricity. This has worked, but not well enough: the output has rarely exceeded five microwatts, while...


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