Researchers have found a way to convert a heartbeat into energy that can power a pacemaker.

In a preliminary study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012, aerospace engineers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor developed a prototype cardiac energy harvester. When they connect it to a shaker that makes heartbeat-like vibrations, it generates more than 10 times the energy required to power a pacemaker.

The new device uses piezoelectricity — a fancy word for electrical charge generated from motion.

The approach is promising for pacemakers, because they require only small amounts of power to operate. The heart-powered energy might also power other implantable cardiac devices.

Today’s pacemakers must be surgically replaced every five to seven years when their batteries run out. The new device could one day eliminate the need for replacement pacemakers. It could be especially useful for children who live with pacemakers for many years.

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