A team of researchers from several U.S. academic institutions and one from China created a small, piezoelectric device that, when attached to a constantly moving organ — such as the heart, lung or diaphragm — can harness enough electricity to power a pacemaker or other medical implant.
This new charger happens to be an implantable piezoelectric strip which will be able to turn kinetic energy into electricity. Of course, the “installation” process would require a certain level of surgery, but some folks would think that it is worth going under the knife if you would end up with a strip that can power a pacemaker when it is sewn directly onto the surface of a beating heart.
“This device mounts onto the surface of the organ of interest, to produce and store power associated with mechanical motions,” wrote Dr. John Rogers, Director of the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in an email. He was a part of this research which involved scientists from four universities.
Currently, when pacemakers run low on juice, surgery is required to have it replaced. While surgery is necessary for implanting these new kinetic energy-harvesting devices, the idea is that they could be powered for a lifetime simply by using the body’s natural rhythms. So far, the devices have only been tested on cows and other large animals, as more long-term testing is needed before the devices are ready for clinical trials.
Scientists still need to test the long-term viability of this miniscule energy factory; there’s no guarantee that it’s safe enough to last for years inside a human body. If it proves useful, however, it could save implant recipients from repeatedly visiting the hospital for maintenance.
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