This Implantable Fuel Cell Converts Blood Sugar into Electrical Energy to Power Medical Implants and Also Treat Diabetes

By: | April 6th, 2023

Implantable medical devices (IMD) rely on a continuous supply of electricity from lithium-based batteries. These batteries gradually run down and eventually need replacement or recharging that is powered wirelessly.

But neither option is perfect!

There is a need for better ways to power medical implants.

Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a fuel cell that will convert users’ blood sugar from the body into electrical energy. It would require no external power at all.

Generating electricity from excess glucose in the blood sounds like science fiction

“Many people, especially in the Western industrialized nations, consume more carbohydrates than they need in everyday life,” ETH Zurich’s Martin Fussenegger said in a statement. “This gave us the idea of using this excess metabolic energy to produce electricity to power biomedical devices.”

The blood-sugar-powered fuel cell, resembling a small tea bag can be implanted under the skin.

It contains an anode of copper-based nanoparticles capable of splitting blood glucose into gluconic acid and a proton to generate electricity. The generated electricity is enough to drive a low-power electronic implantable device.

The new system could also be used to treat diabetes in the future

The device autonomously regulates insulin and blood glucose levels by using excess blood sugar. It automatically stops releasing insulin once blood sugar levels have returned to normal. 

The existing device is only a prototype that has been successfully tested in mice. The research team is actively searching for an industry partner with deep pockets to develop it into a marketable product.

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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