Electronics Production | December 21, 2006
Zarlink leads project developing implanted microgenerator
A UK-based consortium of companies today announced that it is developing an in-body microgenerator that will convert energy from human body movement into power for implanted medical devices, including pacemakers, electrical stimulators, instrumented joints and body area network applications.
The project, led by Zarlink Semiconductor has received £500,000 in funding from the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which will be match-funded by the consortium. Today, batteries in implanted medical devices have a limited lifespan, some needing replacement within seven to 10 years depending on use. Increasing clinical applications, for example wireless monitoring of cardiac pacemakers, and the continuous drive to design less obtrusive implanted devices, is placing further strains on battery operating lifetimes. While some implanted device batteries can be externally recharged, more commonly the patient must undergo a time-consuming and costly surgical replacement of the entire device. It is estimated that surgical replacement of a cardiac pacemaker can cost up to £10,000. The two-year SIMM (self-energizing implantable medical micro system) project will prototype a device capable of harvesting energy from movement in or on the body, including joint movement and heartbeats. Body energy will be harvested by means of a microgenerator manufactured as a MEMS (micro-electrical-mechanical system). This prototype design is expected to achieve 10-100 times more power than previous attempts to harvest human energy. Welcoming the new partnership, Science and Innovation Minister, Malcolm Wicks said: “This project has amazing potential to help huge numbers of people world-wide who have pacemakers and other medical implants. It's exactly this sort of research we're looking for with the Technology Programme – working with industry to develop marketable products we'll need in the future. This partnership could not only help boost the UK's economy, but make an enormous difference to the quality of people's lives." “The ability to fit and forget implantable devices in terms of their power supply is groundbreaking with significant clinical and quality of life advances," said David Hatherall, external project leader at Zarlink's Caldicot facility and SIMM project coordinator. “The operating life and size requirements of the battery are a chief concern in the design of implanted medical devices. Providing an in-body power supply will reduce the dependence on batteries for implantable devices, and facilitate the design of new self-powered devices for applications currently not feasible due to battery life and space restrictions." According to industry research, there is great demand for improved power supply technology in many emerging medical applications, including neurostimulation, activity monitoring, bladder control valves, drug delivery systems, medical telemetry and cochlear and retinal implants. Perpetuum Ltd. is the technical lead for the SIMM project. “This is an exciting and potentially huge market for us to be exploring," said Perpetuum CEO Roy Freeland. “We are thrilled to be involved with this project, which is a natural extension of our proven industrial energy harvesting technology."