Implantable technology devices have already become part of the medical arsenal, such as pacemakers. These devices have a flaw that can even be fatal; they run on batteries. And batteries run down. A typical pacemaker must be replaced every six to 10 years, which requires surgery. Some estimates indicate that as many as 3% of pacemaker users die during the operation to replace the batteries.
A doctoral student at the University of Illinois has tackled this problem. Canan Dagdeviren has developed a piezoelectric device that can harvest small amounts of energy directly from a beating heart, or the movement of a body’s lungs and diaphragm. Piezoelectric materials have the property of moving when an electrical current is applied, or conversely generating a current when it is moved. If you press a button on your barbecue grill that clicks to create a spark to light the propane, you’re probably using piezoelectric material.
In this case, the material is soft, lightweight, and flexible. And it produces enough power to run a pacemaker. If excess power is generated, it can be stored for future use. The result is a device that might never need to be replaced in the course of the patient’s lifetime.
Collaborating with researchers at the University of Arizona, Dagdeviren has already conducted animal experiments with this new device. The next steps include testing with humans. The same technology could also be used externally to generate power for wearable devices, such as small patches on an individual’s knees or elbows. And ultimately, it can lead to surgically-implanted devices that can monitor or treat chronic conditions without the need for outside charging or replacement.