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Experimental pacemaker could soon recharge its battery using a heartbeat

A new experimental pacemaker has succeeded in converting a heartbeat’s energy into an electrical charge which recharges the device’s battery. Could this soon eliminate the need for regular surgeries?

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the most fundamental instrument in supporting human life certainly warrants innovating for.

We’re of course talking about the heart, a remarkable muscular organ which unfortunately exhibits faults or troublesome anomalies in millions of people. For around 600,000 individuals every year, the only feasible solution is to have a pacemaker surgery.

For those unfamiliar, these devices supplement a frail or excessive heart rate by using a small battery’s electrical pulse to bring it back to a safe and consistent rhythm. They typically fall under two categories: ‘traditional’ or ‘transvenous’.

The traditional type is installed under the skin near the left shoulder, where little wires carry its electrical charge directly to the heart. The latter is far smaller and has its battery directly integrated, meaning it can nest within a heart’s chamber and function at the source.

There are significant pros and cons for each. Traditional pacemakers are easier to access through an incision in the shoulder, for instance, but have a far higher likelihood of infections or dislodgement.

Transvenous devices, meanwhile, don’t present any complications with MRIs and are implementable without open chest surgery – as they’re injected through a vein in the leg.

Nonetheless, the overarching flaw that both types share is that their batteries need replacing regularly.

Every 6 to 15 years, those with traditional pacemakers require a new battery to be physically implanted, while leadless pacemakers are left to retire in the body and are succeeded by another functioning unit. It’s not as practical a practice as medical science would ideally like.

Encouragingly, however, this downside may no longer persist for an indefinite period, thanks to a scientific breakthrough at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Led by Babak Nazer, an associate professor of medicine at the institution, researchers developed a new prototype able to convert a heartbeat into useful energy which could, in theory, sustain and charge a pacemaker’s battery on the fly for as long as needed.


Several devices wrapped in a polyimide membrane (to hold charge) were tested in a cardiac pressure simulator, which is said to accurately mimic a heart ventricle, and the best prototypes harvested around 10% of the energy needed to stimulate another heartbeat.

While this is obviously short of the ultimate goal to create a circular running system, the preliminary findings could form the basis for new devices and optimised technology.

The team is slated to present its findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023, a yearly symposium on cardiovascular advancements.

‘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,’ Nazer says.

‘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.’

It’s safe to say that human trials probably aren’t imminent then, but the preliminary signs are looking extremely positive.