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Medical device uses human body as power source

13 November 2012


Posted by Satvir Bhullar

An innovative new implantable electronic device has been created that employs the human body to deliver energy.

Developed by researchers in the US, it is powered by "a natural battery found deep in the mammalian ear" and is fitted with a radio transmitter.

By tapping into a chamber filled with ions within the ear, the device could be used to power implantable electronic devices in a way that does not impair the hearing of the wearer.

Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology explain that the gadget could be employed to monitor biological activity, deliver therapies or assess responses to treatment.

Tests have been carried out using guinea pigs and found that the device was able to transmit data wirelessly relating to the chemical conditions within their ears.

By converting the vibration of the eardrum into an electrochemical signal, the scientists were able to harness the energy of the biological battery in the cochlea, which generates the highest voltage in the body outside of individual cells.

Konstantina Stankovic of the MEEI explained: "We have known for 60 years that this battery exists and that it’s really important for normal hearing, but nobody has attempted to use this battery to power useful electronics."

In the UK, innovation in the field of medicine has received a further boost with the news that a total of £20 million is going to be invested in the field of synthetic biology.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has stated this is "one of the most promising areas of science with significant growth potential" and Chancellor George Osborne announced the funding during a speech at the Royal Society.

He stated: "The value of the global synthetic biology market is predicted to grow to £11 billion by 2016. In the longer term, synthetic biology has the potential to create new markets in response to emerging future needs."

Around 70 per cent of insulin sold around the world is produced using synthetic biology and the science has a wide range of applications, including producing new pharmaceuticals and reducing the cost of raw materials for industry.

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