Bern Researchers Develop Turbines Designed to Use Hydraulic Power of the Heart to Run Medical Devices

May 26, 2011 – 2:14 pm

Researchers at the University of Bern and the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland have developed small turbines that can fit into arteries, writes Lucas Laursen in an article for the IEEE Spectrum website.

The turbines are designed to power medical devices such as pacemakers by utilising the hydraulic power that the heart naturally produces. This would eliminate the need for a battery and surgical procedures to replace it. It would also result in a smaller device.

Biomedical engineer Alois Pfenniger is leading the research and introduced results from a recent trial at the International Conference on Microtechnologies in Medicine and Biology in Lucerne, Switzerland. In the trial, the turbines were tested in a tube designed to mimic the internal thoracic artery. The most efficient turbine reportedly produced around 800 microwatts of power, while a pacemaker requires around 10 microwatts to function, according to the article.

Since the turbines produce turbulence in the arteries, there is a concern that they could cause blood clots. The researchers are working on a solution to this.

Besides pacemakers, the turbines could drive medical devices such as blood-pressure sensors, drug-delivery pumps or neurostimulators.

EMDT Editor in Chief Norbert Sparrow discussed self-powered pacemakers in the June edition of “A Note from the Editor”, which was about the Heart-Beat Scavenger (HBS) consortium. The consortium, spearheaded by the Grenoble-based R&D body Leti, aims to develop a cardiac pacemaker driven by the energy produced by the movements of the heart.

Learn more about the Bern research project in the IEEE Spectrum article on the vascular turbines.

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