Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) have developed a new technology that can generate electricity from blood sugar. The breakthrough technology, which uses a fuel cell implanted under the skin, could revolutionize medical devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers.
The fuel cell’s electrode is composed of nanoparticles made of copper, which are tailor-made for this particular use at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in ETH Zurich, located in Basel. A unique non-woven fabric encases the electrode, and it is coated with alginate, a substance made from algae that is commonly used in the medical industry. Once implanted under the skin, the fuel cell can utilize the alginate’s unique properties to both absorb bodily fluids and facilitate glucose entry into the cell.
According to the lead researcher of the study, Martin Fussenegger, the idea for the technology came from the fact that many people in Western industrialized nations consume more carbohydrates than they need in everyday life. “This gave us the idea of using this excess metabolic energy to produce electricity to power biomedical devices,” said Fussenegger.
Once the glucose is in the fuel cell, it can be connected to a capsule containing artificial beta cells, which are man-made mimics of the cells that produce insulin in the human body. This means that the fuel cell can power medical devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers.
The researchers have published their findings in the journal Advanced Materials. The team believes that the technology has the potential to be a game-changer for the medical industry, particularly for those with diabetes and heart problems.
For people with diabetes, insulin pumps are an essential tool for managing the disease. However, these pumps require a power source, which can be a problem for some patients. The new technology could eliminate the need for external power sources and make it easier for people with diabetes to manage their condition.
The technology could also benefit people with heart problems who require pacemakers. These devices are implanted into the body and are designed to regulate the heartbeat. However, the batteries that power the pacemakers need to be replaced periodically, which can be a risky procedure. The new technology could potentially eliminate the need for battery replacements and make pacemakers safer and more reliable.
The researchers are optimistic about the future of the technology and believe that it could have many applications beyond medical devices. “Our findings could pave the way for the development of new implantable devices that can be powered by the body’s own metabolic energy,” said Fussenegger.
The researchers are now working on improving the technology and making it more efficient. They are also exploring other potential applications, such as using the technology to power wearable devices.
Overall, the development of this new technology is a significant breakthrough in the medical industry. By harnessing the body’s own energy, the technology has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people with diabetes and heart problems. The researchers at ETH Zurich are optimistic about the future of the technology and are excited to see how it will develop in the years to come.