Wireless heart pumps could be on the horizon
Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) and University of Pittsburgh have developed a wireless power system that may one day be used to power implanted heart pumps, according to findings presented June 10-12, at the 57th Annual Conference of the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO).

Because electrical power cords used for implanted heart pumps—which typically protrude from a patient's stomach—are often a source for infections, increased morbidity, re-hospitalizations, as well as limited movement, researchers studied the possibility of wireless energy to power the pumps.

Pramod Bonde, MD, assistant professor, director of heart transplant outcomes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Joshua R. Smith, PhD, UW associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, tested a wireless power system for ventricular assist devices. The study, entitled “Innovative free-range resonant energy delivery system (Free-D System) for a ventricular assist device using wireless power,” involved a wireless energy system that adjusts frequency and other parameters as distance or orientation between a  transmitter and receiver coils changes.

The researchers found that a pump worked without interruption even when the receiver was submerged in water, with a system efficiency of nearly 80 percent. “Most people’s intuition about wireless power is that as the receiver gets further away, you get less power,” Smith said. “But with this technique there’s a regime where the efficiency actually doesn’t change with distance.”

Smith's system, which he has worked on for about six years, caught the attention of Bonde nearly four years ago, according to a release.

"My primary interest is to help heart failure patients recover, and they can only recover if they are not tethered to a battery or external power supply so they can exercise and train their heart to recover," said Bonde. "With wireless technology patients can be free and they can have a chance to move around and exercise like normal human beings."

The possibilites aren't limited to heart patients, he noted.

“The potential for wireless power in medical fields goes far beyond powering artificial hearts,” Bonde continued.

Bonde et al received the Willem J Kolff/ Don B Olsen Award for most promising research in the development of artificial hearts. Researchers next plan to test the system using a heart pump implanted in an animal.