Medical Devices

Could biodegradable batteries power smart pills & medical devices? These engineers think so

cuttlefishApparently, ink from a marine animal related to the squid could be a potential source of power for the next generation of “smart pills” and biodegradable medical devices.

Some scientists and technology companies envision a future where swallowable or implantable electronics could monitor medication compliance or vital signs from inside the body. Or, tiny sensor-embedded pills could carry drugs that traditionally must be injected through the stomach and into the intestine, where they could then be released and absorbed.

Chris Bettinger and a team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh discovered that pigment in the ink of the cuttlefish has the right chemical makeup and structure to function as the anode in a battery that’s fully biodegradable. Implanted devices that need power present a challenge in that conventional batteries may contain toxic chemicals, so they are encased and eventually are removed from the body.

The team described the biodegradable sodium-ion battery in a paper featured on the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Its performance isn’t as good as lithium-ion batteries, but Bettinger told MIT Technology Review that the team is continuing to improve the power output and storage capacity.

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Read more about the batteries and their potential applications here, here and here.

[Image credit: Flickr user Modern Relics]

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