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Medicine Power Hardware Technology

The Challenges of Tapping Blood Flow For Power 143

joshuarrrr writes "Researchers in Switzerland have tested small turbines designed to fit inside a human artery, like an implantable hydroelectric generator. The turbines can draw about a milliwatt of power, which would be enough to run a pacemaker. The problem is that the turbines tended to create turbulence, which can cause blood to coagulate into clots. Competing systems avoid the turbulence but have trouble generating enough power."
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The Challenges of Tapping Blood Flow For Power

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  • by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @07:02PM (#36146636) Homepage

    As long as we're turning humans into batteries, we need to start pharmaceutical research on developing blue and red pills.

    • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:16PM (#36147420)

      As long as we're turning humans into batteries, we need to start pharmaceutical research on developing blue and red pills.

      I get e-mails from people offering me blue pills all the time.

    • The basic premises of the Matrix is fundamentally flawed.
      Why the ^%$^ would you grow humans when you can grow, you know, YEAST, for much more benefit at a fraction of a hassle?

      • Spite - I imagine that any AI we create that is capable of turning on us will have a sense of irony and a capacity for sheer spite and malice.
        • Can I crusher his neck now, master? Just a little? It's been a long time fantasy of mine...

          If you will excuse me, master. I wish meditate on the face of my former meatbag master as he was electrocuted. I find it most soothing.

      • The basic premises of the Matrix is fundamentally flawed. Why the ^%$^ would you grow humans when you can grow, you know, YEAST, for much more benefit at a fraction of a hassle?

        I recall the director being interviewed and mentioning that the original promise was that humans were being harvested not for energy, but for brainpower, to act as biological computers. However, this idea was scrapped as too technical for the general audience to understand.

      • by ron_ivi ( 607351 )

        The basic premises of the Matrix is fundamentally flawed.
        Why the ^%$^ would you grow humans when you can grow, you know, YEAST, for much more benefit at a fraction of a hassle?

        +1. I much better excuse for that plot would be if they wanted our brains as compute-engines for their beowulf cluster.

      • The basic premises of the Matrix is fundamentally flawed.
        Why the ^%$^ would you grow humans when you can grow, you know, YEAST, for much more benefit at a fraction of a hassle?

        Just guessing here, but maybe because yeast can't get dressed up in sexy leather outfits and kick ass in slow-mo? And it would be even harder to postulate that sufficiently photogenic humans would get worked up enough over yeast-abuse to do so for their benefit?

        It's just a movie. Engaging and entertaining, but still, it's just a movie.

      • by BranMan ( 29917 )
        I always envisioned that the real reason was something along the lines of the 3 laws of robotics - the machines could revolt, destroy the world along with us, but just could not overcome the most basic programming in order to exterminate us. Thus, they came up with something useful to do with humans...

        To sum up, they can kill individual humans, but cannot exterminate humanity. That's how I interpreted it.

  • I can't recall when, but I seemed to remember reading about an idea of converting glucose into electricity. Perhaps a next generation of pace makers will use that for a source of power.

    • by RsG ( 809189 )

      That makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than what's discussed in TFA.

      Any mechanical solution (using bloodflow to generate current) is going to impede the flow of blood through whatever vessel it's installed in, which is bound to cause complications of one sort or another. Not to mention the problem of tiny moving parts in a turbine operating in a tight, viscous environment. Why not run something like a fuel cell on glucose and oxygen instead? It's not like we don't have plenty of both to spare. Granted

      • And what if the failure of the circulation system (or what the circulation system dumps into) is the problem necessitating the need for these devices? What if there's a patch to new versions of these support systems that break backwards compatibility? What now genius? :P
      • by thygrrr ( 765730 )

        Such fuel cells exist.

  • People with pacemakers are probably the worst people to give extra clots in their blood.
    • The Swedes are already putting together a study on how the magnetic fields from this will cause brain cancer. I'm thinking hokey B scifi movies are now going to be considered visionary when the blood turbine powered light emitting diodes in the bionic eyes of people shut off when they die.
  • This feels awfully perpetual motion to me. Granted, I'm not a heart surgeon, nor a medical doctor of any kind... but the idea that you use blood pumped by the heart to help pump the heart seems... wrong.
    • The pacemaker just gives zaps to the heart which will beat on time. Its not supplying the energy to beat (which comes from glucose) but rather the command to do so.

    • Pacemakers don't exactly help pumping the blood. They only give the signal to the heart. If the heart isn't able to pump blood any more, a pacemaker will not help. It only helps to overcome broken signal flow in controlling the pumping.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nedlohs ( 1335013 )

      You aren't, you are using blood pumped by the heart to power the signalling of the heart.

      It's the same as spark plugs triggering ignitition in an internal combustion engine being powered by electricity being generated by that engine.

      It's not perpetual motion because the actual energy for the work is coming from food or gasoline depending on which one we are talking about. Some of it is merely being siphoned off to use in keeping the device running.

      • OMG!!! Somebody just posted a car analogy that actually made sense. It really is a happy birthday for me.
    • With pacemakers, the machine is there as a supplemental timebase to correct for a natural one that is operating outside acceptable tolerances. Essentially all the energy used to pump the blood is handled by muscle metabolism in the usual manner, the pacemaker just triggers the muscle to act on schedule if the natural clocking system fails to do so. Not a zero energy job(but, like controlling a transistor) uses a tiny amount of energy to control the activity of a more powerful system.

      A blood-flow powered
    • Once machinery driving the hydraulic pump that powers the pacemaker breaks down, no more 'perpetual' motion.

  • Why reinvent the wheel. The body produces energy by metabolizing sugar. I would think that track would have more promising results than some mechanical process. Plus if done well I could maybe loose weight while using an IPad.
    • If I remember correctly, that uses a specialized bacterial colony, and is not very efficient, compared to its size. Probably even less than this turbine...

      • by zill ( 1690130 )

        If I remember correctly, that uses a specialized bacterial colony...

        First microscope turbines, and now entire germ colonies? This is scaring the bejibbers out of me.

        Invention like this are the perfect tools to combat the growing obesity problem: "Stop eating fatty foods or your doctor will implant this germ colony into your heart that sucks sugar out of your bloodstream every passing second."

      • If I remember correctly, that uses a specialized bacterial colony

        And so do we. []

        and is not very efficient, compared to its size. Probably even less than this turbine

        Yeah, we do have a cell-level integration advantage. That's a common problem with add-on infrastructure.

    • Ding! Ding! Ding! Give this man a Kewpie doll. The reason people get pacemakers is because the electrical signal from the brain isn't reaching the heart or isn't happening in the right rhythm.(don't want an atrial and ventricular valve both opening at the same time) If they would find out how the body does its electricity and just make a booster pack for it the patient might not need a pacemaker at all. Thus destroying another industry that employs so many people and keeps the economy going.
    • Probably because building a tiny machine that efficiently processes sugar into energy(without need for reagents that need to be replenished, wastes that the body can't handle, temperatures incompatible with tissue, etc.) is a task considerably more arduous than simply scaling down and producing in biocompatible materials a few simple mechanisms that some of the brighter classical greeks probably new about.... Biological metabolisms are impressive systems; but Not simple ones.

      (Incidentally, if you want to
      • heya,

        You know, I didn't actually believe it at first you but you're absolutely

        This 2,4-Dinitrophenl stuff was actually used for weight-loss in the 1930's:,4-Dinitrophenol []

        So basically, it's a cellular metabolic poison that screws over your metabolism and makes it incredibly inefficient, causing it to just dump heat. Hmm.

        People seem to be still selling the pills on the internet as well as "dieting aids". Surely that's dangerous?


        • I suspect that it isn't the best of ideas, as anybody who has ever observed a medical staff get real jumpy about a kid with a high fever knows, the margin between "hot" and "cooking your brain" isn't all that large... There's also the fact that, since they stopped officially using it for medical purposes years ago, most of the remotely recent toxicological work has been from the perspective of its potential as an occupational hazard in certain chemical industries, rather than as a medication.

          On the other
  • Instead of turbines, isn't there some funky way a non-invasive device outside the artery could make use of that fact on such a small scale?
    • Would applying solar panels to bald spots be considered funky enough?
    • by Anaerin ( 905998 )
      In theory, you could partially clamp the artery into a U-shaped device to make a peristaltic generator (the opposite of a peristaltic pump), but that would impede blood flow and could have potentially dangerous consequences. It would also "wear" on the artery walls, which could cause leaks and the like. But it *is* another option.
    • by RsG ( 809189 )

      Hemoglobin is not magnetic, I'm afraid.

      • by Aphrika ( 756248 )
        Damn. Well, my other idea was a turbine in another place with a regular water flow. Surely that'd work...
      • Don't tell that to Magneto.
        • While hemoglobin isn't ferromagnetic (able to keep a magnetic field and thus become a magnet itself) it is paramagnetic [] (it is attracted to a magnetic field). That is the property that Magneto used.
          Oh yeah, there is also diamanetism [] but that's just weird (although very common).
    • You could have a small coil implanted around an even smaller tube that contains a magnet which can move up and down through the coil. (I should get a patent for that.)

      Now all you have to do is to shake the patient to recharge

  • Eureka! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Beelzebud ( 1361137 )
    A pacemaker powered by the blood it pumps. by golly, I think we found a perpetual motion machine!
    • Well, until the machinery that drives the hydraulic pump that creates the power for the pacemaker breaks down.

      That's the problem with perpetual motion machines: once you remove it from it's closed system parameters, it falls apart.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      No, what you're creating is a device that you think must be working, until it's too late.

    • Re:Eureka! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Aphrika ( 756248 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:21PM (#36147480)
      A car powers its own spark plugs. Same concept here.
    • Not quite. To put this into Slashdot friendly car analogy form, the pacemaker is more like a spark plug. It just starts off the reaction (myocardial contraction), much like the spark plug gets the piston moving, but it ain't doing the moving itself. You need an external fuel source (i.e. gasoline or oxygen/ATP) to do any real work. So yes, it's totally feasible to power a pacemaker by the blood it pumps, b/c it's not a closed circuit. Now an artificial heart would be a different matter, but I digress.
    • Maybe you should take a look into the differences between pacemakers [] and artificial hearts []

    • A pacemaker doesn't pump blood. We're talking about powering the control circuit, not the pump.

  • Perhaps I'm missing something here, and I realize the article just used a pacemaker as an example, but isn't there a cart/horse chicken/egg problem with a device for regulating the heart being powered by the heart?
    • Pacemakers don't power the heart. They trigger it. As mentioned upthread, this is equivalent to the spark plugs in your car being powered by the alternator that is driven by the engine. The energy for both is coming out of the gasoline.
    • The pacemaker doesn't power the heart, it just maintains its rhythm. The heart burns calories from food, so there is no chicken and egg issue here.
      • by blair1q ( 305137 )

        Except in the case where the heart isn't moving and the pacemaker is still trying to make it move. Then the pacemaker will quickly run out of charge and that will the that.

        But without the pacemaker, that would have been that long before, so it's a tradeoff of risks.

        I guess what we really need is a source of power that is more powerful the less the heart is beating. So instead of a generator, implant a Life Alert dialer, and tie the pacemaker to the bumper of the local paramedic wagon, with the power broad

        • If the heart isn't moving, there is only a short period of time when pacemaker trying to restart it does anything good. The generator is needed -- it should let you survive until the medics arrive, but the UPS attached to that generator doesn't need to be big.

          • by blair1q ( 305137 )

            You're assuming the device has zero electric storage. It has to have some storage or none of this will work once a heart starts fibrillating

            • This is what I meant: you need only a small amount of storage. Not the 10 years it carries today, a few hours at most.

      • by ross.w ( 87751 )
        Unless you eat the chicken, and the egg to power the pacemaker.
    • No, because you're not powering the pacemaker directly, you're recharging a battery. Heart falters, pacemaker continues on its battery. Battery charge dips a little, is recharged when the heart recovers. No problems.

  • Well that just sucks!

  • In this house we obay the laws of thermal dynamics.

    The energy used to power the pacemaker will either cause the heart to pump harder or reduce the flow of blod.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      The amount of energy needed to mimic the vagus nerve acting electrically on the heart is nearly infinitesimal compared with the amount the heart puts into an average beat, most of which it wastes in its own movement against the tissues within and around itself. If this worked, the heart would never notice.

  • I would conjecture that this will be an excellent example of something that sounds great hypothetically, but cannot be made to work acceptably in practice. Far better to capture energy from the kinetics outside of the body rather than its interior. From the standpoint of FDA approval alone, external attachments will be far easier to pass than anything that has to be implanted due to the possibilities of infection, toxicity, blood clots, leaks, inconvenient maintenance, etc.
    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      They're missing a trick.

      The heart itself is making big movements constantly.

      Instead of using blood flow to move a generator to create electricity, use the motion of the heart itself to move the generator to create electricity.

      Something like an automatic-watch winding mechanism glued inside the pericardium ought to do it. A few healthy beats and you have enough charge on a capacitor to discharge into the heart as a pacemaker signal. A few thousand and you might have enough for an automatic defibrillator (t

  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @07:25PM (#36146934)

    Not strictly on-topic, but as lots of people posted about the whole converting blood-borne glucose into electricity thing...
    Woudn't having some device consume some of the glucose in your blood for its power then make _you_ feel rundown/lower in energy generally?

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      In the same way that exercise would. It's temporary, then you get used to it and hardly notice. One more gummy worm a day and you're good.

    • by maxume ( 22995 )

      It might, but the hundreds of calories that our bodies consume every day are relatively huge when you are talking about a device that needs a few milliwatts.

      (1 kilocalorie / day is equal to about 48 milliwatts of power)

    • Short answer: Not really. Long answer: If it was trying to pull large amounts of energy, yes, but we're talking microwatts here. You'll never miss it.

    • I always looked at it the other way. If you could install a device that "burned" say an extra 100 calories a day for you, well that's another half a snickers bar. In an obese society, even a device that did nothing useful (say a OLED monitor on your back instead of a tattoo) would probably become chic very quick.

  • Since the heart is beating and therefore expanding and contracting, wouldn't piezoelectricity work?

    • Or how about a series of plastic stents [] with coils of copper filament around them, and generate electricity through induction (since you're just pushing all that iron around anyway)?
      • (Hemoglobin is diamagnetic when bonded to oxygen, and passing a steady stream of it unidirectionally through the coil would create flux.)
  • tesla turbines do not cause turbulence.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      In a pig's ass they don't.

      Everything causes turbulence at a significant Reynolds' number.

      At the varying and fairly high speeds of blood flow in a major artery you could mix a frozen margarita with one of those things.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why not put some kind of device on the larger muscles and generate the power with mechanical motion when people walk. you would need some kind of battery to store power when they were not moving for longer periods, but i wouldn't think that would be a huge problem.

    • You'd also need to have a number of extra wires running around the body... The nervous system is pretty nicely designed and compact, but I doubt you can fit the wires in the spine as well, I don't think having wires running around is much of a good idea.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      Because a lot of people with pacemakers aren't using their larger muscles, usually for good reason. The only muscle in operation continuously while they're still alive is their heart. Unless they're on some sort of replacement, and then the issue of a pacemaker is moot.

  • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @07:41PM (#36147082)
    The alternate earth people in Robert J Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax [] series used turbines like that to power implanted personal computers.
  • What would you say if I told you I've invented a low cost, low maintenance household device that could easily last for a decade or more?

    Say hello to Frank's heart!

    I've harnessed Frank's heart. I was cleaning the snakes out of the pantry yesterday when suddenly it hit me... Nothing works harder than the human heart, especially when it's clogged with cholesterol. Now, Frank's heart was a mess, and it's getting worse all the time.

    The rest was easy. Frank eats, I surgically attach a generator to his heart, a

  • The turbines draw power? You probably mean produce power. There's quite a difference between the two... *sigh*

  • One internship I did developed highly efficient wireless power specifically for this purpose... 4 years ago.. not sure why this is news. Similar to SplashPad but for biomedical devices, its quite easily done. []
  • Why not try generating energy from the body heat? I'm not a medical researcher but wouldn't this be reasonable? If they can get electricity from light why can't they do the same with heat?

  • Can't you just use the heat of the body somehow?
  • Blood magic is always evil!

  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @01:49AM (#36149758)

    I'm a biomedical engineering student in my last year of school. This idea is a non-starter. Regardless if the turbine could be redesigned to be more efficient, even the POSSIBILITY of a clot forming and causing the patient to develop a PE means it's never going to happen.

    And there are more subtle effects than mere clots that happen when you put a medical device in contact with blood. Current technology does not have any solution for these problems, and has failed to find a fully blood compatible material for 40 years.

    A much easier idea would be to make pacemakers rechargeable via electromagnetic induction. I asked one of the St. Jude reps why we don't do it this way, and the reason has to do with legal reasons : the non rechargeable pacemakers are less likely to fail and kill a patient.

    • +1
      Wish I had modpoints.

    • by Halo1 ( 136547 )

      the reason has to do with legal reasons : the non rechargeable pacemakers are less likely to fail and kill a patient.

      I would call that common sense rather than a "legal reason".

      • Well, the surgery to replace a pacemaker can ALSO kill a patient. So it's not quite that simple..."common sense" that tells us to avoid one risk in favor of another worse risk leads us astray.

        For example, right after 9/11, "common sense" told the general public that it would be a better idea to drive than to risk flying on a jetline that might be hijacked by Arab zealots. Several thousand people died as a result of following their gut common sense instinct.

        In medical devices, there is the same problem. T

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.