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.


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

[Image credit: Flickr user Modern Relics]

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