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Wireless power for heart implants could reduce infections, increase mobility

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July 14, 2011

An experimental wireless power system could reduce infections in patients with implanted h...

An experimental wireless power system could reduce infections in patients with implanted heart pumps (Image: Pramod Bonde, UPMC)

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While implantable heart pumps may buy some time for people waiting to undergo heart transplants, such implants have at least one serious drawback - because they receive their power from an external source, a power cord must protrude through the skin of the patient's belly. About 40 percent of patients experience infections of that opening, which often require rehospitalization, and in extreme cases can even cause death. The presence of that cord also makes it impossible for patients to swim or take baths. Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are attempting to put an end to the troublesome cords, however, by developing a system that wirelessly transmits power to heart pumps.

A team led by UW associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering Joshua Smith, along with UPMC heart surgeon Pramod Bonde, created the prototype for the system. It utilizes a transmitting coil that sends out electromagnetic waves at a specific frequency, and a receiving coil that absorbs the energy from those waves, which it stores in a battery. It's a variation on the inductive power technology used in devices such as cell phone charging pads, the difference being that with those devices, the tool and the charger must be touching and held firmly in place.

The UW/UPMC system gets around that limitation, by automatically adjusting the frequency and other parameters as the transmitter and receiver move apart, or change orientation relative to one another. Presently, the wave strength is able to remain constant over a distance equivalent to the length of the transmitting coil. If a one-foot coil is used, for instance, that means it can effectively transmit power to the receiver over a distance of one foot.

If that coil were only a few inches long, that would still be sufficient for a scenario in which it were worn in a vest against the body, with the receiving coil adjacent to it, implanted under the patient's skin. Because energy would be stored in an implanted battery, that means the patient could spend periods of about two hours without having to even be near the transmitter, so they could do things like swim or bathe.

The prototype system, which could lead to one used for wirelessly powering implanted heart...

So far, the researchers have been able to use the system to power a heart pump submerged in water. Power was transmitted at about 80 percent efficiency, to a receiving coil that was just 4.3 centimeters (1.7 in) across. Animal trials are now being planned.

Ultimately, the UW/UPMC team would like to see a system in which several transmitters were located around a room, so a patient within that room could move freely about. They also believe that the technology could be used to power other types of implants, recharge consumer electronics, or even recharge underwater instruments in the ocean.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
1 Comment

I find calling this "New Technology" to be absolutely appalling. Usually you guys are on top of your game when it comes to new and interesting science and technology! Nikola Tesla was able to transmit power wirelessly over a distance of 25 miles over 100 years ago!! Yet here you are talking about a few inches as if it were completely unheard of!!!

P.S. those "transmitting coils" you were talking about are actually aptly named Tesla Coils!

Joel Bauman
15th July, 2011 @ 11:18 am PDT
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