AUG 26, 2016 6:42 AM PDT

Edible Battery to Power Ingestible Medical Devices

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
 Ever since we were little, we’ve been told to never, ever swallow any batteries. Now, a group of engineers say they’ve developed batteries meant to be swallowed! But unlike the “AA’s” or “AAA’s” that go into toys or devices, this ingestible battery is in the form of a pill intended to power internal, ingestible medical devices.

Christopher Bettinger and his edible battery | Image: Bettinger Lab
 "For decades, people have been envisioning that one day, we would have edible electronic devices to diagnose or treat disease," said materials scientist Christopher Bettinger. "But if you want to take a device every day, you have to think about toxicity issues. That's when we have to think about biologically derived materials that could replace some of these things you might find in a RadioShack."
 
Some of the biggest challenges for having a battery inside your body is containing the chemical byproducts and preventing possible leakages of caustic agents. But even if these challenges are overcome, as they have been for pacemakers, the risk of toxicity is would be too high for devices intended to be ingested.
 
To solve this problem, Bettinger and his team at Carnegie Mellon University turned to melanin – the pigment molecule that colors our skin, hair, eyes, and gives us freckles. As it turns out, these molecules can bind and unbind metallic ions, a unique property that makes them natural batteries.
 
They then experimented with battery designs using melanin at the different terminals, and different biocompatible electrode materials, like manganese oxide, copper, and iron.

In the end, they arrived at a biocompatible, edible battery that really works. "The exact numbers depend on the configuration, but as an example, we can power a 5 milliWatt device for up to 18 hours using 600 milligrams of active melanin material as a cathode,” said Hang-Ah Park, co-researcher of the study.
 
This is enough juice to power small, ingestible devices. For example, imagine a pill that can sense the microbiome activity of your gut, or one that delivers drugs based on your body’s personal needs. This battery could power these devices, and more.
 
"The beauty is that by definition an ingestible, degradable device is in the body for no longer than 20 hours or so," Bettinger said. "Even if you have marginal performance, which we do, that's all you need."
 
It sounds like the future of “wearable devices” just got upgraded to “edible devices.”
 

Additional source: American Chemical Society via EurekAlert!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
MAY 04, 2021
Cardiology
Does Sleep Apnea Affect Blood Pressure During REM Sleep?
MAY 04, 2021
Does Sleep Apnea Affect Blood Pressure During REM Sleep?
Sleep is a time for your body to rest and recover from the day. Your heart slows down, and your breathing relaxes.   ...
MAY 13, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Smart Patch Measures How Itchy You Are
MAY 13, 2021
Smart Patch Measures How Itchy You Are
A wearable “scratch sensor” developed by researchers at Northwestern University could finally help doctors m ...
JUN 30, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
A Deep Learning Tool for Faster, Better Heart Disease Diagnoses
JUN 30, 2021
A Deep Learning Tool for Faster, Better Heart Disease Diagnoses
A new deep learning tool could help slash the time it takes to interpret cardiology scans to diagnose obstructive corona ...
AUG 05, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Wearable Patch Senses Blood Vessel Blockages
AUG 05, 2021
Wearable Patch Senses Blood Vessel Blockages
The cardiovascular system is like a network of highways, filled with an estimated 25 trillion red blood cells that conti ...
AUG 31, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Five Questions to Help You Select the Best Cellular Stain
AUG 31, 2021
Five Questions to Help You Select the Best Cellular Stain
Cellular stains are organic fluorescent dyes or fluorescent conjugates designed to localize to a specific organelle or c ...
AUG 24, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
A New Chapter in Metastatic Breast Cancer Biomarkers
AUG 24, 2021
A New Chapter in Metastatic Breast Cancer Biomarkers
For patients diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, it’s often not the primary tumor that has fatal consequences ...
Loading Comments...