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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 December 2006, 01:34 GMT
Quest for battery-free pacemaker
Many pacemakers have a definite shelf-life
A heart pacemaker that does not need a battery is being developed under a government-sponsored technology scheme.

Currently, some patients who have implanted pacemakers and electronic defibrillators need surgery once every seven to 10 years to fit a new battery.

The new device would use a microgenerator producing electricity every time the patient moves.

The cost of the 1m project is being shared by the Department of Trade and Industry and private companies.

This project has amazing potential to help huge numbers of people worldwide who have pacemakers and other medical implants
Malcolm Wicks
Science and technology minister

David Hatherall, from Zarlink Semiconductor, which is developing the device, described the technology as "groundbreaking".

"The ability to fit and forget implantable devices in terms of their power supply will have significant clinical and quality of life benefits," he said.

He predicted that new devices to tackle other illnesses could emerge as scientists are freed from the restrictions imposed by the size and lifespan of the batteries they currently need.

While some pacemakers can be recharged from outside the body, operations to replace the power source in others can cost up to 10,000, and must be carried out under general anaesthetic, which means additional risks to patients.

Worldwide interest

Other research teams are racing to find alternatives to conventional pacemakers, including tiny generators that use body heat to create the electricity needed, and 'biological pacemakers' that would correct heart problems without the need for a mechanical device.

The government funding for the project has come from the Technology Programme, which, so far, has ploughed more than 430m into research and development.

Science minister Malcolm Wicks suggested that the resulting technology could boost the UK economy.

"The NHS needs to improve in terms of technology transfer - there are lots of good ideas out there, but we have been a bit slow in employing them.

"This project has amazing potential to help huge numbers of people worldwide who have pacemakers and other medical implants."

A spokesman for the British Heart Foundation described the concept as a "useful innovation".

"If this technology is able to be developed, it could potentially prolong the life of pacemaker batteries," he said.

"This could reduce the need for battery replacements which is inconvenient for patients and can be costly for the NHS."

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