Nano-film can create electricity from any motion in the body


New Israeli nanotechnology will “harvest” energy in the human body and turn it into electricity to power medical devices like pacemakers, researchers said.

“In the future, we’ll make it possible for all sorts of medical devices in the body, including pacemakers, to run without batteries, and instead use mechanical energy transformed to electricity in the body,” Dr. Sharon Gilead of Tel Aviv University, part of the team behind the innovation, told The Times of Israel.

“We are going to actually be able to use electricity that has been generated inside the body.

“It’s exciting, and will have real benefits for many people who currently need procedures every few years to remove their pacemaker and change the battery. This just won’t be necessary,” Gilead said.

The nano material, packaged in a very thin film, can harness any movement in the body, even the mechanical energy from the outside of veins as blood moves through them, and generate an electrical charge that can run devices.

he idea of piezoelectricity, accumulating electrical charge in solid materials, is not new, but until now scientists have been unable to create materials that are both nontoxic, making them suitable for implantation in the body, and able to generate enough voltage to power devices.

The academic team, from Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and scientific institutes in Ireland, China and Australia, mimicked the structure of collagen, the most prevalent protein in the human body.

The researchers used nontoxic materials that they say will allow cheap production of the nano-film. The product will be akin to “a kind of tiny motor for very small devices,” said Gilead.

Her team has published research in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications outlining the innovation, which has been tested using movement that mimics the body. It now hopes to see the tech undergo human trials.

Gilead said that the innovation will not only eliminate the need for battery changing in medical devices like pacemakers, but will also allow them to be made smaller. “Batteries are small, but without any need for a battery, we’ll be able to make devices smaller and thinner,” she predicted.A diagram illustrating the new nano-film that can generate electricity inside the human body (courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

The lead researcher, Prof. Ehud Gazit of Tel Aviv University’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, expects the material to have many uses outside the human body. It can harness movement anywhere it occurs, he said, suggesting that the film could be placed on roads to capture the movement of tires to power street lights above.

The appeal of the nano-film stems from the fact that the its production process doesn’t use polluting substances often used for electrical materials and it delivers eco-friendly power, according to Gazit.

“Environmentally friendly piezoelectric materials, such as the one we have developed, have tremendous potential in a wide range of areas because they produce green energy using mechanical force that is being used anyway,” he said. “For example, a car driving down the street can turn on the streetlights.

These materials may also replace lead-containing piezoelectric materials that are currently in widespread use, but that raise concerns about the leakage of toxic metal into the environment.”

Pacemakers are among the most common electronic medical devices implanted to aid in the restoration of heart function in clinical practice. Using a pulse generator to provide battery-powered electrical pulses, pacemakers excite and contract the heart by stimulating the heart muscle through electrodes. They are applied in the treatment of some cardiac dysfunctions caused by arrhythmias and heart failure (1-3).

At present, implanted medical devices such as pacemakers are used to maintain normal vital signs in millions of patients worldwide (4). With the wide application of pacemakers, many complications related to batteries and implanted devices of pacemakers can also arise (5,6).

Furthermore, routine battery replacement to ensure adequate power supply is inavoidable, but this greatly increases the health risks for patients. Therefore, the development of self-powered pacemakers has become the main priority of pacemaker-related research.

Researchers have exerted great efforts to develop novel self-powered medical devices. The optimal approach is direct conversion of biomechanical energy (such as muscle stretching, heartbeat, blood flow, and gas flow caused by respiration) into electrical energy (7-9). Mechanisms of biomechanical energy conversion include electromagnetic induction, triboelectricity, staticity, and piezoelectricity (7,10,11).

Among them, the piezoelectric method has the greatest application prospect in implantable self-powered medical devices, as it holds potential for high power density, high output stability, and device flexibility (12,13). However, challenges still exist in creating commercial pacemakers that can be directly driven by implantable piezoelectric energy collectors (14).

Attaining adequate power output to drive pacemakers has become a key challenge for implantable piezoelectric energy collectors (15). The efficiency of piezoelectric energy collectors is closely related to the piezoelectric material, manufacturing process, structural design, implantation position, and mode of energy collection (16,17).

Therefore, we designed a new type of pacemaker model with self-energized characteristics. By using an implantable piezoelectric energy collector, the kinetic energy of the heart was collected and supplied to the pacemaker chip to attain an effective pacing treatment, and self-functional pacing was achieved by stimulating the cardiac tissue with a pacing electrode. Piezoelectric energy harvesting is the key to this new self-powered cardiac pacemaker, and is also the main focus of verification in this paper.

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Figure 2
Finite element analysis of the piezoelectric energy harvester unit with and without a metal layer. (A) Results of finite element analysis for stress distribution and the corresponding output voltage of the piezoelectric energy harvester unit without a beryllium-copper layer. (B) Results of finite element analysis for stress distribution and the corresponding output voltage of the piezoelectric energy harvester unit with a beryllium-copper layer under the same vertex deformation of 1.54 mm.
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Figure 5
The process of implanting the piezoelectric vibrator near the cardiac apex. (A) The piezoelectric vibrator for rats; (B) the piezoelectric vibrator prototype compared with an index finger; (C) the piezoelectric vibrator with wire; (D) chest incisions; (E) size comparison between exposed rat hearts and a coin; (F) after implantation of the piezoelectric vibrator.

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