Stanford Researcher Develops Wirelessly Rechargable Implant: What It Means for Health IT

An electrical engineer at Stanford (Calif.) University has developed a tiny pacemaker that can be recharged wirelessly while inside the body. The new technology could lead to a new generation of implantable medical devices as well as new uses and challenges for hospitals' IT systems and wireless networks.

The pacemaker chip, developed by Ada Poon, PhD, is about the size of a grain of rice. Dr. Poon's team was able to successfully repower the device while implanted in a rabbit with a new kind of power source that combines near- and far-field electromagnetic waves to safely send power through biological tissue.

The new power transfer method, dubbed by Dr. Poon as mid-field wireless transfer, has applications well beyond pacemakers. "With this method, we can safely transmit power to tiny implants in organs like the heart or brain, well beyond the range of current near-field systems," John Ho, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering and a co-author of a report on the discovery, said in a news release.

This kind of power transfer could be used to simulate or relax specific parts of organs as well as allow medical devices to be smaller and travel to more remote parts of the body, creating new possibilities for disease treatments and pain relief, said Dr. Poon in the news release.

The discovery is also poised to expand the scope and use of implanted or wearable medical devices and increase the number of wireless transmissions sent and received by these devices. The Pew Research Center Internet Project recently found the use of electronic health tracking devices will be widespread by 2025. While Food and Drug Administration trials for Dr. Poon's technology are likely years away, the new wireless technology is another step toward consumers becoming increasingly wired into their health.

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