Electronic medical implants typically run on batteries, which have limited lifetimes, require secure enclosures, and take up a lot of space. But a quest has been underway to use glucose, a ubiquitous source of energy used by the body and available nearly everywhere within it, as a fuel to power implantable devices.
Researchers at Washington State University are reporting on an important step toward that goal, having created a tiny fuel cell that harvests glucose and turns it into enough electric power to energize a biosensor attached to it. The fuel cell doesn’t use any toxic ingredients and is supposedly more stable, therefore making it safe and applicable for long term applications within the body. The team believes that their technology will lead to implanted continuous glucometers for diabetics, heart monitors, and other devices that would benefit from not having to have a battery.
Because the fuel cell isn’t particularly powerful yet, and work is underway to improve its efficiency, it was paired with a specially fabricated electronic sensor that runs on just a few microwatts of power. Its underlying design is cheap to manufacture, according to the researchers, but this is all still in the laboratory stage.
The researchers are looking to ask for regulatory approval to test the technology within humans in the not too distant future.
Since the device consumes glucose, we wonder whether it may also serve as an electronic parallel to insulin, or simply as an aid to help with weight loss.