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Biodegradable batteries for ingestible medical devices

Posting in Healthcare
Researchers have found a way to turn ink from squirmy cuttlefish into electrode materials for batteries. These edible, dissolvable batteries could power tiny medical devices that, once ingested or implanted in the body, can be used for monitoring wounds or disease and for smarter ways to release drugs.

Turns out, the chemistry and structure of the melanin pigments in the ink from Sepia officinalis (a close relative to squid) is perfect for powering tiny electronic devices that operate in close proximity to sensitive living tissue, study researcher Chris Bettinger from Carnegie Mellon University said in a press release

According to the release
At present, high-performance energy storage systems for medical devices are designed to supply power to semi-permanent devices that are often encapsulated. These scenarios permit the use of potentially toxic electrode materials and electrolytes. 

Conventional battery materials aren’t safe inside the body unless they’re encased in protective capsules --which must eventually be surgically removed, Technology Review explains

“Instead of lithium and toxic electrolytes that work really well but aren’t biocompatible, we chose simple materials of biological origin,” Bettinger says. The battery materials break down into nontoxic bits in the body.

The melanin batteries don’t match the performance of lithium-ion batteries. The current prototypes provide enough power to run simple sensors, Tech Review reports. The team is working to improve power output and storage capacity by experimenting with different forms of melanin. 

The work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month. 


Image: Brian Gratwicke via Flickr

— By on January 2, 2014, 6:32 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure