After centuries of creating some of the world’s most accurate wristwatches, Swiss engineers now turn their attention to cardiology, in a successful attempt to create a battery-free pacemaker that draws inspiration from mechanical timepieces.
When first developed for pocket watches by Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet in 1777, self-winding mechanisms emerged as a very convenient solution for the forgetful ones. Automatic watches, which were the next logical step, were even better, as the natural movements of the hand were enough for generating the energy needed by the watch to run. Now, this concept is implemented by Swiss engineers in prototype automatic pacemakers that do away with batteries.
Pacemakers in themselves are a great invention, but their main problem is that they require batteries, and in order to get the power sources replaced, patients need to go through surgical interventions. On the other hand, an automatic pacemaker that’s powered by the heart’s motion would represent a major step forward.
Adrian Zurbuchen of the University of Bern, explained while attending the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona that the tests on animals were successful and that their heartbeats were at a steadily 130 bpm: “This is a feasibility study. We have shown that it is possible to pace the heart using the power of its own motion.”
There are no plans to begin tests on humans, just yet, but the preliminary results are great. Knowing that people wearing pacemakers wouldn’t have to go through the traumatic experience of surgery every now and then would provide some relief.
Besides, Zurbuchen has only conducted this research with his team of engineers, without any help (financial or otherwise) from industrial partners. Of course, he is open towards collaborating with investors and other companies interested in the development of a battery-free pacemaker, and at this point his team should get all the help they can.
While other researchers have looked into external sources for powering pacemakers, the idea to use the heart as the pacemaker’s power generator is entirely new. A clockwork pacemaker is firm proof that Swiss engineers are good at more than just watches, even if the things they create are inspired from the very same time-keepers.
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