Fu­ture looks bright for so­lar-pow­ered pace­mak­ers

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

So­lar en­ergy has long been cham­pi­oned by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists as a re­new­able source of power for homes or busi­nesses. But now Swiss re­searchers say the sun could power some­thing much closer to our hearts: pace­mak­ers.

A team of Swiss re­searchers cal­cu­lated that a 3.6square-cen­time­ter so­lar cell gen­er­ates enough en­ergy to power de­vices such as pace­mak­ers and deep brain stim­u­la­tors. The lead au­thor of the study, Lukas Bereuter of Bern Univer­sity Hospi­tal and the Univer­sity of Bern in Switzer­land, hopes that wear­ing a so­lar patch be­neath the skin could one day save pa­tients from hav­ing to un­dergo pe­ri­odic surg­eries to re­place bat­ter­ies, pro­ce­dures that are costly and carry the risk of med­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions.

Since the size of elec­tronic med­i­cal im­plants is dic­tated by the bat­tery vol­ume needed for an ex­tended life­span, so­lar-pow­ered de­vices also have the po­ten­tial to be a lot smaller than their bat­tery-pow­ered pre­de­ces­sors.

To test the fea­si­bil­ity of this idea, Bereuter and his col­leagues cre­ated 10 so­lar mea­sure­ment de­vices to track the out­put power be­ing gen­er­ated. The cells were 3.6 square cen­time­ters in size and cov­ered with op­ti­cal fil­ters to sim­u­late how prop­er­ties of the skin would in­flu­ence how sun­light would fil­ter through the skin. Worn on the arms of 32 vol­un­teers in Switzer­land for one week dur­ing sum­mer, au­tumn and win­ter the tiny cells were con­sis­tently found to gen­er­ate far above the 5 to 10 mi­crowatts of power that most car­diac pace­mak­ers re­quire. The par­tic­i­pant with the low­est power out­put still gen­er­ated 12 mi­crowatts on av­er­age.

Bereuter be­lieves that the re­sults of this study could be scaled up and ap­plied to a myr­iad of other mo­bile, so­lar­pow­ered de­vices for hu­mans.

Use of so­lar cells in next-gen pace­mak­ers should help shrink the size of to­day’s de­vices.

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