Space & Innovation

Organ Implant Could Power Pacemakers

Small devices can be sewn onto the heart, lung or diaphragm where they can harvest enough energy to power a pacemaker. Continue reading →

Injectable medical sensors and embedded implants are becoming less of a sci-fi trope as they manifest into reality. While most devices are either designed to be charged wirelessly or simply react with bodily fluids, cyborgs of the future may power such implants by sewing energy harvesters directly onto their internal organs.

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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.

The device incorporates lead zirconate titanate nanoribbons that are housed in a flexible, biocompatible plastic. Also included is an integrated rectifier that converts the electric signals, plus a miniature rechargeable battery. Constant motion of the organ causes the nanoribbons to bend, thus creating small amounts of electricity.

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.

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Still, when all the medical boards give this device the green light, l say we sew one onto the heart of Jaki Liebezeit, drummer for pioneering Krautrock band Can. With his machine-like, amphetamine beats, I'm convinced Liebezeit could power the world 'till kingdom come. See what I mean with "Halleluwah" and "Mother Sky."


Credit: University of Illinois and University of Arizona