Clockwork heart pumps blood without batteries

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Pacemaker cells shock the heart with electricity to keep it pumping.

Did you know that your heart pumps blood every minute of every day until the end of your life? Yup, and the reason this rhythmic organ never misses a beat is because of pacemaker cells, that regularly create electrical impulses to contract the heart. If a person’s natural pacemaker cells don’t work properly, there are artificial (manmade) ones that keep the beat going. Now, Swiss engineers have managed to keep hearts pumping with technology from a wristwatch!

Traditional artificial pacemakers are battery-powered and contain leads – wires which snake through veins leading into the heart to generate a beat. Sadly, these are the two main features that make normal pacemakers so pesky. The leads are very likely to fracture and need replacing somewhere down the line!

Meanwhile, the batteries have a limited lifespan and will eventually need to be replaced by surgery. Fortunately, Swiss researchers have replaced batteries with the self-winding technology found in a wristwatch, which may spell the end of regular ol’ pacemakers as we know them.

Automatic wristwatches contain a winding spring that absorbs mechanical energy (movement) and transforms it into electrical energy. Well, the new Swiss pacemaker uses that same mechanism to keep the heart pumping! When a heart beats, the pacemaker takes the energy generated from the movement and transforms it into electricity, which then shocks the heart to beat again.

The battery-free pacemaker has already been tested in pigs, and the tiny device works like a charm. Unfortunately, it will be a cool while before humans have the chance to use the wristwatch-inspired device. Something tells me researchers will find other ways to keep the heart pumping long before then!

Featured image courtesy of Alex Brown on Flickr. Image of heart courtesy of Blausen Medical Communications, Inc. on Wikimedia.