Hearts surplus energy may help power pacemakers, defibrillators

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon

NEW ORLEANS—Surplus energy generated by the heart may one day help power pacemakers and defibrillators implanted in cardiac patients, according to research presented Monday at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions.

Paul Roberts, MD, an electrophysiologist at Southampton University Hospital in Hampshire, England, who presented the study, said that “harvesting surplus energy might be a major transition in implantable pacemakers and defibrillators because engineers will have more energy to work with.”

In the experiment, a microgenerator powered by heartbeats produced almost 17 percent of the electricity needed to run an artificial pacemaker.

Among the researchers’ findings were:

  • A heart rate of 80 beats per minute (bpm), the device yielded an average harvested energy of 4.3 microjoules per cardiac cycle.
  • Increasing changes in the heart rate produced corresponding increases in energy. At 104 to 128 bpm, the harvested energy level increased 140 percent.
  • Decreases occurred when they slowed the heartbeat or lowered blood pressure.
  • Implantation and surplus energy harvesting caused no significant injury to the lining of the heart’s chambers.

“What this might mean is that in the next era of pacemakers, you’d get devices that lasted significantly longer and we could add more functions to help monitor the heart,” Roberts said. “It’s possible they could be efficient enough to allow complete and indefinite powering of pacemakers.”

“The small devices now are really very good, but power consumption must increase if we want to take them to the next level,” he said. “Battery technology has plateaued and the only way we are going to increase power is to increase size.”

This, in turn, would increase the units’ weight, making them more uncomfortable and less cosmetically acceptable to patients because the devices are implanted under the skin, according to Roberts.

He said that the generator, the self-energizing implantable medical microsystem (SIMM), could help the heart produce more than enough energy with each beat to pump blood. The SIMM uses two compressible bladders and a microgenerator mounted on the lead of a pacemaker or defibrillator. The lead is attached to the end of the right ventricle, and the bladders relay the energy from the pressure of each heartbeat to the microgenerator, which transforms it into electricity for use by the battery.

Roberts reported that a consortium of companies including InVivo Technology, Perpetuum and Zarlink Semiconductor developed and tested the SIMM microgenerator with U.K. government funds. Researchers used an in-vivo porcine model to evaluate the study.

The researchers are now working to improve the materials used in the SIMM microgenerator, according to Roberts.

“With different materials, we’re seeing even greater energy harvesting,” he concluded. “While at the moment we see about 20 percent harvesting, we’re anticipating that will be significantly more in the next iteration of the device.”