Researchers develop self-powered pacemaker system based on automatic wristwatch

Adrian Zurbuchen

As cardiac devicemakers search for innovative ways to streamline products for patients, Swiss researchers have developed a self-powered pacemaker modeled after an automatic wristwatch that could provide an alternative to traditional pacing systems.

Scientists at the University of Bern unveiled a cardiac pacemaker based on a commercially available wristwatch that uses a patient's natural heart rhythms, rather than batteries, to stimulate the heart. Traditional pacemakers often call for battery replacements or frequent surgical interventions, and a self-powered device could decrease costs and risks of complications, University of Bern researcher Adrian Zurbuchen said while presenting the pacemaker at ESC Congress 2014.

"Our new pacemaker tackles the two major disadvantages of today's pacemakers. First, pacemaker leads are prone to fracture and can pose an imminent threat to the patient. And second, the lifetime of a pacemaker battery is limited," Zurbuchen said in a statement. "Our energy harvesting system is located directly on the heart and has the potential to avoid both disadvantages by providing the world with a batteryless and leadless pacemaker."

To test the device prototype, scientists connected the wristwatch-like apparatus with an electronic circuit to a custom-made cardiac pacemaker that collected energy from the heart. The pacemaker then used the buffered energy to deliver stimuli. While the device has not yet been tested on humans, Zurbuchen said the system successfully achieved pacing of 130 beats per minute in domestic pigs. The research team plans on combining the custom-made pacemaker, electronic circuit and energy harvesting system to eliminate the need for leads.

University of Bern researchers aren't the only ones forging ahead with plans for self-powered pacemakers. A team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology designed a cardiac pacemaker implant that runs on a flexible nanogenerator rather than traditional batteries. Scientists directly stimulated a living rat's heart using electric energy converted from small body movements, forgoing the need for battery power.

Big name companies also have their eye on next-generation pacemaker systems and are rolling out products to bolster their market share. Last month, Medtronic ($MDT) won FDA approval for its Viva CRT-P cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) pacemaker with a proprietary algorithm that reads and adjusts to patients' heart rhythms. In February, St. Jude ($STJ) implanted its Nanostim leadless pacemaker in its first U.S. patient, kicking off a pivotal trial aimed toward FDA approval. The company touts its device as one-tenth the size of cardiac pacemakers on the market with an expected battery life of 9 to 13 years.

- read the release

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