Worldwide, patients have more than one million plus pacemakers and 200,000 plus defibrillators implanted each year. Current technology requires follow-up surgery to replace batteries as needed, typically every five to 10 years. In the past four years, we’ve written about several technologies in development that would replace conventional implant batteries and spare patients from recurring surgeries. Georgia Tech‘s triboelectric sensor device, the University of Grenoble‘s glucose biofuel cells using shrimp shells, and Oxford‘s work with bacterial “wind farms” each attracted our attention.

Darmouth engineers and UT Health San Antonio clinicians are developing thin-film energy conversion materials with a mechanical design to use as self-charging batteries for pacemakers and defibrillators. In a feature story in Advanced Materials Technologies, Dartmouth’s John X.J. Zhang and Zi Chen and UT’s Dr. Marc Feldman explained how the system works. The key is to modify existing implant devices to use kinetic energy from a lead wire attached to a beating heart. The structural implant modification employs a specialty polymer piezoelectric film called PVDF to convert mechanical to electrical energy.

The Darmouth and UT Health work is in the third year of a 5-year NIH Transformative Research Award funding program. The NIH program funds work considered High-Risk, High-Reward Research. The team suggests a self-charging pacemaker may be about five years from marketability. In the next two years the researchers will focus on continued pre-clinical testing and work on obtaining regulatory approval.