27 Jan Solar Powered Medical Devices Are In Our Near Future
Clinical engineers need implantable medical devices to carry out effective and safe diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases. Many of these medical devices such as pacemakers are battery-powered, and patients must go for checkups a few times a year to help them predict how the device battery is doing and if they need to schedule a replacement. The most stressful part of it for most people is that the replacement procedure often involves invasive surgery. Fortunately, a new study on pacemakers has recently projected that we may have solar powered medical devices in the near future.
Manufacturers engineering most of the current battery-powered electronic implants are forced to increase the size of these devices to allow for a battery volume required to offer an extended lifespan. The power in such batteries will ultimately run out, demanding for replacement or recharging. This means that a patient has to schedule for implant replacement procedures in most case, which is not only stressful and costly but also exposes them to the risk of implant replacement procedures.
In the wake of solar powered medical implants, several research groups have come up with prototypes of small solar cells that surgeons can place under the skin to recharge implemented medical devices successfully. Solar energy can penetrate the skin surface for the solar cells to convert it into electrical energy. Swiss researchers, Lukas Bereuter and his colleagues, were the first to explore the real-life feasibility of such power-generating medical implants. They have proposed that placing solar cells under your skin can continuously recharge your implanted electronic medical device throughout the year. They determined that a solar cell as small as 3.6 square centimeters can convert solar energy to electric energy enough to keep a typical pacemaker powered during summer and winter. They also did a real-life study that provided data supporting the notion of using solar powered medical devices to replace current deep brain stimulators and pacemakers.
In this study, they developed special solar measurement devices that can accurately measure the output power the prototype solar cells are generating. They designed ten solar cells that measured 3.6 square centimeters in length so that that they can be small enough to be implanted under one’s skin. The researchers then covered all the devices with optical filters to simulate human skin and how it would influence the penetration of the light from the sun to the cells. 32 individuals volunteered to have the devices implanted in their skin for one week during autumn, winter, and summer.
The study results confirmed the tiny cells to have the ability to generate much more power than the 5-10 microwatts needed to run a typical cardiac pacemaker no matter the season. In fact, the volunteer with the lowest power output recorded an average of 12 microwatts. Bereuter recommended further consideration of a patient’s skin thickness, and catchment area of solar cells as well as their efficiency. This can be useful in the attempt to scale up the study results and apply the solar cells to other medical devices.
Many experts now anticipate that the use of solar powered medical devices in future will save patients the trauma and discomfort of undergoing routine surgical procedures when replacing the batteries of these life-saving devices. So, if you are a pacemaker patient, there is hope for the solar energy eventually powering your device in the near future.
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