A new device powered by the heart could finally solve the problem of the pacemaker.
About 1.5 million Americans have an implanted pacemaker for their heart to beat regularly.
Devices save lives, but they do not last forever. Currently, most pacemaker batteries need to be replaced every five to twelve years, which involves invasive surgery every time.
Researchers at the Key National Laboratory for Science and Technology in Shanghai, China, have developed a tiny device that grafts on the heart to generate energy – meaning that a pacemaker battery should never be replaced.
Chinese scientists have created a pacemaker that does not need a battery because it generates energy when the heart beats it, which could end the pacemaker replacement.
A healthy heart can keep time for itself, thanks to an internal stimulator called the sinus node located in the upper right chamber.
It triggers an electrical charge approximately 60 to 100 times per minute and this electrical energy triggers a series of contractions of the heart muscle which in turn pumps blood throughout the body.
But as the heart gets older or when it gets sick, the sinus node takes a hit too and may not allow the heart to beat at any time.
Fortunately, since the late 1950s, we have been able to substitute a small, battery-powered implantable device to send these electrical signals when the heart can not.
Even 60 years later, however, we have not yet found the best solution for powering the device.
The surgery to place the pacemaker and wires that transmit electrical impulses to the heart is complex, forcing doctors to open the chest cavity.
The pacemaker itself is hidden in a "pocket" much closer to the surface of the skin.
Once the battery is exhausted, only a local anesthetic is required to remove the old device and install a new fully charged device.
Nevertheless, the procedure is an unpleasant problem that carries a risk of infection, and it is expensive.
According to Costhelper, the device itself can cost between $ 19,000 and $ 96,000, not counting operating costs.
But the new device developed in China seems to promise to end the procedure.
The new pacemaker accessory can actually harness the heartbeat to power a pacemaker.
The key to innovation lies in its flexible plastic frame, which allows the device to capture more energy from the heart than previous hard cases.
At the center of the device are layers of piezoelectric material, which generates energy at each bend.
Many materials acquire an electrical charge when we apply a force to them, including those natural to our body.
Crystals, DNA and even bones are able to capture electrical energy.
The trick is to apply enough force to a piezoelectric material, then to overload it because, alone, these materials do not consume much energy.
Scientists have long envisioned piezoelectricity as an elegant solution for recovering otherwise lost energy. Some have even previously applied to a pacemaker.
But previously, other researchers had not been able to create a device that bent enough to generate enough energy.
Now, Chinese scientists have shown that their device can power a pacemaker and make the heart beat of a pig.
The frame of the device allows it to flex significantly with the least amount of movement created by a heartbeat.
While the pacemaker itself is implanted at its usual location, near the collarbone and just under the skin, the new feeding device is concealed under the heart, at the point where the contractions of the Organ bend it.
When tested on pigs, the new pacemaker generated as much power as a pacemaker, using a fully renewable energy source.
Thus, as long as the pacemaker keeps the heart running, the heart will continue to operate the pacemaker in a perfect symbiotic relationship.