Can heart beats really power cardiac pacemakers?

Baron von Munchausen

Today, I received a link ( from Marijn, honorary member of the Biomedical Electronics Group, in which it is mentioned that researchers have found a way to harvest enough energy from a piezo-electric transducer so that a cardiac pacemaker can be powered from the heart itself. This would render the bulky batteries in the pacemakers unnecessary and the pacemaker thus does not have to be replaced after a couple of years because of a depleted battery.

I have two concerns about this. First, there is a kind of “Baron-von-Munchausen” effect. Baron von Munchausen was an 18th-century German nobleman, who, according to Rudolf Erich Raspe’s story The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, pulls himself out of a swamp by his hair (specifically, his pigtail). Now, let’s suppose that a pacemaker, equipped with a piezo-electric energy harvester to power the pacemaker, for no particular reason, fails to operate and the heart stops its precious beating, what will then power up the pacemaker again to make the beat again? Scary thought, isn’t it?

Second concern is of another nature. Pacemakers are usually replaced, not because the battery has depleted, but simply because a next generation pacemaker can provide a better therapy to the patient. As a side note, uncomfortable but true, current pacemakers (and thus also the batteries included therein) on average live longer than their owners. Hopefully this latter aspect will change for the better soon.


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