The symbiotic pacemaker based on implantable triboelectric nanogenerator. Credit: Zhou Li

Piggy pacemaker is powered by the beating heart

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US and Chinese scientists have developed an implantable power source that generates electricity using the energy of the beating heart, and used it to a power a pacemaker that can correct irregular heart rhythms in pigs. The power harvester removes the need for bulky batteries, and is capable of generating enough power to run a pacemaker in a human patient, say the authors, although the size, efficiency and long-term biosafety of the devices will first need to be optimised for human patients.

Journal/conference: Nature Communications

Organisation/s: Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Funder: Minister of Science and Technology, China, National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Beijing Natural Science Foundation, China Postdoctoral Science Foundation, Beijing Council of Science and Technology and the National Youth Talent Support Program.

Media Release

From: Springer Nature

Biomedical engineering: A self-powered pacemaker in pigs

A battery-free device that harvests energy from heart beats to power a cardiac pacemaker is reported in Nature Communications this week. The implantable device, demonstrated in adult pigs, was also capable of correcting sinus arrhythmia (an irregularity in the heart rhythm).

Current pacemakers and other implantable medical devices are powered by batteries that are bulky, rigid, and short-lived. Implantable, self-powered energy harvesters can be used for physiological regulation; however, they have only been demonstrated in small animal and cell models with low energy demands.

Zhou Li, Zhong Lin Wang and colleagues developed an implantable generator that can harvest enough energy from cardiac motion to power a commercial pacemaker. The energy harvester, which is paired with a power management unit and the pacemaker, is biocompatible and mechanically durable. The authors demonstrated in pigs that their implanted system was not only capable of cardiac pacing, but could also correct sinus arrhythmia and prevent deterioration to conditions (such as sinus arrest and ventricular fibrillation) that may lead to death.

Although the system cannot be extended to humans until the size, efficiency, and long-term biosafety are optimized, the energy harvested from each cardiac cycle was higher than that needed for pacing in humans. The authors suggest that the technology could have a range of applications, including in tissue engineering, nerve regeneration, and stem cell differentiation.

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