Why new battery technology will lead to disruptive medtech innovations

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What’s the next big disruption in battery technology? Three experts from Integer, a global leader in medical device outsourcing, weigh in.

Martin Cholette, Robert Rubino and Chris Williams, Integer

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A cut-out view of a cylindrical leadless pacemaker battery. [Image courtesy of Integer]

What new technologies in medtech are being enabled by advances in battery technology?

Chris Williams: One new technology is the leadless cardiac pacing market. Integer has developed batteries in a cylindrical form that allows for implants through the femoral vein in a minimally invasive procedure. Applications for energy storage continue to miniaturize, driving demand for increases in energy density and also novel form factors. This will continue to fuel the implanted sensor/recorder markets as well as less invasive therapeutic devices.

Rob Rubino: One potential area for big advances is in cochlear implants. Currently, the implant is behind the ear and patients remove them when sleeping, showering and swimming. If there is a fire or emergency, they may not hear it because they took off the implant. In the future, the battery (and implant) could be inside the head, eliminating outside paraphernalia.

Martin Cholette: Still in its infancy but in a phase of accelerated development are minimally invasive diagnostics and technologies that monitor physiologic activity and vital signs. These technologies offer information to physicians and patients that lead to more effective management of diseases. What comes to mind is implantable cardiac monitors; used instead of cumbersome Holter monitors with limited observation periods, these small devices are implanted under the skin in a simple procedure to provide continuous monitoring of cardiac activity and enable a level of diagnostic and arrhythmia management.

When developing new battery innovations, what are some of the challenges faced?

Martin Cholette: One of the biggest challenges is adopting new materials that drive enhanced battery performance and its related validation. As we design and experiment with new chemistries, shapes and size formats, it will just take time.

Rob Rubino: The availability of materials can be challenging since some vendors don’t want to supply materials for the manufacturing of medical devices due to the liability. And, if materials get discontinued, the time needed to validate replacement materials is long and disruptive.

Are outside (non-battery) influences being brought into play that could enable battery advancement?

Rob Rubino: Improvements in how we transfer power could enable advances in recharging batteries. Today, you have limitations on how quickly batteries can be charged. If we can find a solution to transfer this energy safely, and with miniature hardware, we can begin to think about shorter charge times. Shorter charge times will enable more frequent recharges, so we can store less energy in the device, which will allow the battery and device to be much smaller and less invasive.

Chris Williams: Battery heating during usage can be a concern. Our customers are working to develop more efficient pumping systems that could reduce the heating by reducing current draw. They are approaching it from the angle of less required energy, which indirectly addresses the heating concern.

Rob Rubino: With closed-loop technologies, therapy can be targeted more effectively, leading to a minimal amount of stimulation being applied to alleviate the condition. This will reduce the amount of energy needed for the therapy and smaller batteries can be used.

What’s Integer’s approach to delivering the next best power solution?

Martin Cholette: Integer’s innovations in chemistries, size reduction, complex geometries and the development of rechargeables will continue to drive improvements in battery technologies.

Rob Rubino: The battery industry is in an intense phase of investment and growth. Integer tries to leverage that broader industry investment by picking and choosing technologies that are a good fit for our application.

Once we identify a useful piece of technology, we work to optimize it and then spend a lot of time characterizing it. The ability to predict what our products will do in various circumstances is very important to our customers and, ultimately, regulators. Developing the technology first, then building products around it, allows us to characterize the technologies in a robust way and gather long-term data. 

Chris Williams: Performance, minimally invasiveness and predictability all tie together to provide the right battery for the device and the patient. Integer’s computational and front-end modeling data lets us know exactly how the custom battery will discharge under specific usage conditions. This predictive information allows customers to incorporate accurate fuel gaging of our cells using a statistical approach to drive design elements, which ultimately leads to maximizing the longevity of a device and facilitates the regulatory process — all before any metal is cut.

The future — what’s next? Hype or reality? 

Rob Rubino: Energy harvesting. It’s hype now, but reality in the distance. This is an active area with lots of research and potential, yet great challenges. The biggest is reliability. You have to demonstrate the harvested power will last as long as a battery. I believe sensing and pacing will be the first applications to use it.

Another reality item is miniaturization techniques. Integer is developing technologies to enable batteries that are ½ cc or less that can be targeted to certain therapeutic and diagnostic applications. Miniaturization will lead to non-invasive solutions with minimal inconvenience for patients.

Chris Williams: Miniaturization is quickly becoming a reality. Retinal and cochlear implants are driving demand for not only smaller batteries, but also reducing the size requirements for other related components in the system. Integer is working now on micro-molding, precision machining and also smaller feedthrough technologies to enable these applications.

Martin Cholette, VP of research, development & engineering for Integer (Frisco, Texas), has led the development of cardiovascular, cardiac rhythm management and neuromodulation medical devices in his 20+ year tenure in the medical device industry.  He is the inventor on numerous U.S. patents relating to medical devices and holds degrees in both engineering and physiology from the University of Montreal.

Robert Rubino, director of battery research & development for Integer, is responsible for the development of battery technologies for implantable medical devices.

Chris Williams, technical account director for Integer, serves as liaison between customers and Integer technical staff to identify and facilitate solutions to patient needs.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of MedicalDesignandOutsourcing.com or its employees.

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