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Solar Pacemaker

A pacemaker device implanted in the abdomen or chest can control abnormal heart rhythms. Millions of people have a pacemaker and more than one million additional ones are implanted every year. Pacemakers utilize electrical impulses to assist the heart in maintaining a proper rhythm and heart rate. The small but sophisticated pacemaker devices get their power from a battery which, like all batteries, eventually loses its charge. The depletion phase of the battery life usually begins at about seven years. Although the battery replacement is not complicated and can be done in an outpatient setting, there is the risk of complications. For some, it can be a stressful experience.

Power Electronics magazine reported there have been a number of battery alternatives considered over the years.

Various power sources have been used for pacemakers—among them a radioactive material power source using plutonium-238. Another approach involved inductive transfer in a manner similar to charging a smartphone battery. Several other techniques have utilized the movement of the heart to harvest energy for powering the pacemaker. These approaches all had problems that limited their commercial use. In addition, some of these solutions are affected by cell phone signals or an MRI procedure.

A group of Swiss researchers believes they may have a better idea: power the pacemaker with solar cells implanted under the skin. The researchers found a solar cell less than 1.5 square inches is adequate to generate enough electricity to power a typical pacemaker. The lead research author, Lukas Bereuter of Bern University Hospital and the University of Bern in Switzerland, said that wearing power-generating solar cells under the skin will one day save patients the discomfort of having to undergo a surgical procedure to change the batteries of life-saving devices. More research is needed but the initial research is very promising.

Source: Subcutaneous Solar Cells Could Power Pacemakers