Swiss engineers are working to create a battery-less pacemaker prototype based on self-winding wristwatches.

Current pacemakers, which help the heart beat more regularly, offer a lifeline for many patients with cardiac problems but the need for battery power is a limiting factor, since replacing them requires surgical intervention.

Adrian Zurbuchen of the University of Bern’s cardiovascular engineering group aims to get around the problem with his device, using automatic clockwork first developed for pocket watches by Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet in 1777.

The prototype is based on the same principles of an automatic watch that winds itself when it moves on the wrist. The clockwork pacemaker generates electrical current using the movement of heart muscle. – Filepic

In the same way that an automatic watch winds itself when it moves on the wrist, the clockwork pacemaker generates electrical current using the movement of heart muscle. To do this, it is stitched directly on to the pulsating heart.

So far the experimental system has only been tested on pigs, Zurbuchen reports at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona. The animals’ hearts were successfully regulated to a steady 130 beats per minute.

“This is a feasibility study. We have shown that it is possible to pace the heart using the power of its own motion,” Zurbuchen says.

Current pacemakers need battery power, which is a limiting factor as replacing them requires surgical intervention. – Filepic

The research is still at an early stage and there is, as yet, no schedule for human testing. Zurbuchen has also not discussed the idea with potential industrial partners but he says it was “probably a good time to look” for backers.

Other researchers are investigating ways to get rid of batteries in pacemakers by transmitting power through the body from an external source – but the idea of using clockwork is novel.

Automatic watches work because they have an eccentric weight that pivots when the wearer’s arm moves. This rotation progressively winds a spring that then turns the watch mechanism. In the new Swiss pacemaker, the mechanical spring unwinds to spin an electrical micro-generator. – Reuters

New ways to stay charged

Using watchmaking principles to power a pacemaker is not the only new way scientists have come up with to keep the pacemaker charged. Watch the video where scientists discuss using new technology to keep the device powered up.