The implantable pacemaker, a medical marvel that has extended
millions of lives since its invention nearly 60 years ago, is
getting a 21st century makeover.
First came a wireless version; these pacemakers, which are AAA
battery-sized and placed inside the heart via a catheter through
the leg, are being tested in humans in the United States, Canada
Now, researchers are developing technology to make these devices
battery-free. The advancement is based upon a piezoelectric system
that converts vibrational energy—created inside the chest by
each heartbeat—into electricity to power the pacemaker.
“Essentially, we’re creating technology that will
allow pacemakers to be powered by the very heart that they are
regulating,” said M. Amin Karami, assistant professor of
mechanical engineering, who is leading the research.
The technology may eliminate the medical risks, costs and
inconvenience of having a battery replacement every five to 12
years for millions of people worldwide.
A state of constant motion
The idea of heart-powered pacemakers came to Karami after doing
PhD work on piezoelectric applications for unmanned aerial vehicles
and bridges. He wanted to apply that knowledge to the human
The heart was an obvious choice because of its relative strength
and constant motion.
“To see the heart in motion—even an
animation—is to be awestruck,” said Karami. “It
moves significantly. In turn, that movement creates energy that
we’re just now figuring out how to harvest.”
He initially designed a fl at piezoelectric structure for a
conventional pacemaker. A prototype generated enough power to keep
the pacemaker running at a range of seven to 700 beats per
Karami, who is already talking to device-makers, is building the
new prototype and expects to have animal tests done within two
years. From there, it should be ready for human trials and,
eventually, approval from the U.S. Food and Drug
The research is supported by UB’s Translational Pilot
Studies Fund, an initiative of UB’s Office of the Vice
President for Research and Economic Development.