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Implants could be powered by blood sugar

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July 19, 2011

Scientists are working on biological fuel cells, that could be used to power medical impla...

Scientists are working on biological fuel cells, that could be used to power medical implants using the patient's own blood sugar (Image: Yale Rosen)

While there's no denying that implantable medical devices such as pacemakers save peoples' lives, powering those implants is still a tricky business. The batteries in a standard pacemaker, for instance, are said to last for about eight years - after that, surgery is required to access the device. Implants such as heart pumps are often powered by batteries that can be recharged from outside the body, but these require a power cord that protrudes through the patient's skin, and that keeps them from being able to swim or bathe. Now, however, scientists at Germany's University of Freiburg are developing biological fuel cells, that could draw power for implants from the patient's own blood sugar.

The research team is being led by Dr. Sven Kerzenmacher, of Freiburg's Department of Microsystems Engineering. They are looking into the use noble metal catalysts, such as platinum, to trigger a continuous electrochemical reaction between glucose in the blood and oxygen from the surrounding tissue fluid. The use of platinum (or a similar metal) would be ideal, as the material exhibits long-term stability, it can be sterilized, and electrodes made from it wouldn't be sensitive to unwanted chemical reactions, including hydrolysis and oxidation.

The Freiburg scientists are ultimately hoping that the surfaces of implants could be covered with a thin coating of the fuel cells, which would then power the devices indefinitely.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
4 Comments

I dare speculate that similar technology be used to consume excess calories or fat in a variable and regulated way so that people would have their sugars burnt up for a good cause like re-charge their cell phone whilst sleeping.

Swobnair
19th July, 2011 @ 01:17 pm PDT

My cell phone battery is low! Give me a slice of cheesecake!

Michael Dickey
19th July, 2011 @ 01:24 pm PDT

Induction charging isn't an option for the heart pump batteries?

Christian Puddleglum Cepel
20th July, 2011 @ 12:22 pm PDT

Christian

You are right about induction charging (thus the plus point is not in having no wires) but I think the advantage of this technology's is of not requiring batteries at all, thus less components to replace using surgery, as rechargeable batteries still has a lifetime and degrade over time.

Swobnair
20th July, 2011 @ 01:45 pm PDT
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