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Researchers use light to re-charge pacemakers for first time



When the battery in your implanted medical devices runs out you run to the hospital for emergency surgery to change it – no more.


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We’ve heard about using wireless charging to charge our phones, and wireless energy transmission systems that beam energy down from space and across mountain ranges, but in spite of all these energy developments today one of the problems with powered medical implants such as pacemakers is the fact that when their batteries run out of juice, they have to be surgically replaced – and that’s a pain in the rear to say it mildly. According to a new study, though, it may someday be possible to recharge those batteries by shining nothng more than a light through the patient’s skin.


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Led by Prof. Jongho Lee, a team of scientists at South Korea’s Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) have developed what’s known as an “Active Photonic Power Transfer” system that consists of a flexible patch containing an array of micro-LEDs, along with a photovoltaic device that’s attached to an implant.

When the patch is applied to the skin and its LEDs are switched on, their light shines down through the patient’s biological tissue, reaching the device. It responds by generating an electrical current, which is used to recharge the implant’s battery – keep in mind that pacemakers are typically located just beneath the skin.


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A prototype version of the system has already been tested on mice, successfully recharging implants within the animals’ bodies under a variety of settings and environmental conditions.

Once developed further, it is believed that the technology may not only eliminate the need to surgically remove existing implants for battery-changes, but that it could also allow for the creation of new types of implants that have higher power requirements.

“Currently, a lack of a reliable source of power limits the functionality and performance of implanted medical devices,” says Lee. “If we can secure enough electrical power in our body, new types of medical implants with diverse functions and high performance can be developed.”


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A paper on the GIST research was recently published in the journal PNAS.

Source: Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology

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