Behold the MIT-engineered stomach acid battery
The clever so-and-sos at MIT have created a revolutionary means of powering ingestible electronic devices – namely a battery that uses stomach acid to power itself. And whilst it might make you feel a bit queasy, the batteries could play a critical role in monitoring your vital signs.
Tiny ingestible electronic devices are designed to do just that – keep a close eye on your vital signs from inside the gastrointestinal tract, sensing physiological conditions such as heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. The newly developed batteries, which are a cheaper and safer alternative to the ones currently being used (which self-discharge and pose a potential safety hazard), are delivered in a capsule form, and serve to power the ingestible devices.
Philip Nadeau, lead author of the study (published in Nature Biomedical Engineering) sheds some light on the alien technology: “You could have a self-powered pill that would monitor your vital signs from inside for a couple of weeks, and you don’t even have to think about it. It just sits there making measurements and transmitting them to your phone.”
Currently, each battery can generate enough electricity to power a 900MHz transmitter and a commercial temperature sensor, lasting about six days. The battery itself adopts a ‘lemon battery’ format, whereby the the acid is used as an electrolyte to produce electricity with the aid of a copper and zinc electrode. The end result is a small electric current between the two electrodes.
The team hope to reduce the size of the battery even further; current prototypes come in at about 40mm long and 12mm in diameter, but researchers are optimistic that they can reduce the size to a third of those dimensions. The good news is that the batteries have already prolonged the length of time in which the ingestible devices can function in the body. Extended observation means more extensive and reliable medical data, making MIT’s creation a very noble one indeed.
What’s more, the device could transform the way drugs are administered in the body. In the study, the researchers used the power generated by the voltaic cell to release drugs from a tiny piece of gold film. This could prove pivotal in the commonly occurring circumstance whereby doctors need to administer varying dosages of a drug, such as in the maintenance of blood pressure.
So rejoice, don’t recoil, at this significant biomedical development. In the words of study author Robert Langer: “This work could lead to a new generation of electronic ingestible pills that could someday enable novel ways of monitoring patient health and/or treating disease.” With any luck, the ostensibly icky device could be coming to a doctor’s surgery near you…