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U of A researchers aim to rid pacemakers of batteries

PHOENIX — Researchers at the University of Arizona are working on a new way to power pacemakers that could do away with batteries for good.

The devices seek to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and could have many applications, Dr. Marvin Slepian, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona, said.

One of those applications could be powering pacemakers from the energy created by a person’s heartbeat.

“The goal of the project was to develop materials that could be placed potentially in the body where you could convert mechanical activity … into electrical energy and then use that to then power devices that may require electrical energy within the body,” he said. “Which could then be utilized to either trickle-charge the pacemaker … or as a backup system, or ultimately as a complete power source.”

If the technology can reach a level where devices such as pacemakers are being entirely powered by mechanical energy within the body, Slepian said it could eliminate the need for heart patients to undergo surgery every five-to-eight years to replace a pacemaker’s worn-out batteries.

“The batteries last for several years, but ultimately the batteries have to be changed, and that requires complete removal of the pacemaker,” he said. “In a patient’s lifetime, depending upon when this device was put in, they may have to have several surgeries.”

He said the devices are still in a developmental phase, but could be ready for markets within the next several years.

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