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Self-charging pacemakers could be coming in the future

Thursday 25th April 2019
Researchers in China have successfully tested pacemakers in pigs that have no need for batteries, which could be a breakthrough for cardiac patients.
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Pacemakers are a common treatment for heart arrythmias and irregular heartbeats, with between 40,000 and 50,000 people getting one fitted in the UK each year. While the devices are life-saving, they are not without their flaws. One specific issue is that they are currently battery-powered, and therefore need to have their power cells replaced.

While this is a simple procedure that may not even require an overnight stay in hospital, it is one that might have to be done many times over a patient’s lifetime. On average, pacemaker batteries last for between six and seven years. However, a new development might mean this procedure never has to be done at all.

Researchers in China have been experimenting with a pacemaker that is self-charging. It uses something called a implantable triboelectric nanogenerator, which is essentially a small sheet that generates power whenever it is bent. It would be attached to the wall of the heart, generating energy as it beats that would then power the pacemaker.

So far, this has only been tested on pigs. However, the trials were successful, and as pig hearts are roughly the same size as human hearts then this is extremely promising. Nevertheless, the devices are still some way off being brought to market, with some leading figures expressing concerns.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This innovative technology moves us closer to a pacemaker that needs no batteries and is powered by a device that converts heart muscle contractions into electrical energy. 

“Despite being an exciting development, much more research is needed to understand whether this technology would be durable in humans and can generate enough power to meet the body’s demands.”

Another issue is that fitting it would require open heart surgery, which is much more invasive than current procedures. However, it remains an important breakthrough that could change many people’s lives for the better in the future.

Written by Matthew Horton

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Image credit: Pixabay/U. LeoneADNFCR-1780-ID-801850099-ADNFCR

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