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Pacemaker Powered By Light Eliminates Need For Batteries And Allows The Heart To Function More Naturally

Scientists have designed a solar panel-like pacemaker that can precisely control heartbeats.

By harnessing light, my colleagues and I designed a wireless, ultrathin pacemaker that operates like a solar panel. This design not only eliminates the need for batteries but also minimizes disruptions to the heart’s natural function by molding to its contours. Our research, recently published in the journal Nature, offers a new approach to treatments that require electrical stimulation, such as heart pacing.

Pacemakers are medical devices implanted in the body to regulate heart rhythms. They’re composed of electronic circuits with batteries and leads anchored to the heart muscle to stimulate it. However, leads can fail and damage tissue. The location of the leads can’t be changed once they’re implanted, limiting access to different heart regions. Because pacemakers use rigid, metallic electrodes, they may also damage tissue when restarting the heart after surgery or regulating arrhythmia.

Our team envisioned a leadless and more flexible pacemaker that could precisely stimulate multiple areas of the heart. So we designed a device that transforms light into bioelectricity, or heart cell-generated electrical signals. Thinner than a human hair, our pacemaker is made of an optic fiber and silicon membrane that the Tian lab and colleagues at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering have spent years developing.

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