In a heartbeat
Sixty-two years ago, an electrical engineering researcher at the University at Buffalo named Wilson Greatbatch made one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the 20th century when he invented the implantable cardiac pacemaker, an apparatus that has saved millions of lives. But even the greatest discoveries have their drawbacks.
Pacemakers can last a lifetime, however their batteries last less than 12 years, meaning patients have to undergo a costly surgery to implant a whole new pacemaker every decade or so. And because the new leadless pacemakers are impossible to extract (they’re inserted directly into the heart, and tissue develops around them), people can end up carrying several pacemakers in their body by the time they’re 60 or 70 years old.
Mechanical engineer M. Amin Karami and his team of researchers at UB’s Intelligent Dynamic Energy and Sensing Systems (IDEAS) Lab are giving Greatbatch’s invention a 21st century makeover. They’ve created a device, called an energy harvester, that uses piezoelectric materials (solid materials that generate electricity from mechanical stress) to turn itself into a sustainable power source.
While researchers have tried to use regenerative sources to power pacemakers for decades, the combination of design and technical elements in the IDEAS Lab’s energy harvester is a novelty—and a promising one at that. It has already gone through some animal testing. The next step is to integrate the harvester into commercial pacemakers and receive FDA approval. The UB team hopes the energy harvester will one day make batteries, and repeat surgeries, obsolete.
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