Edible battery innovation could lead to targeted health sensors, drug delivery
Researchers have developed a battery that is safe to ingest and could fit inside a pill. (Shutterstock / Ferenc Szelepcsenyi)
Published Saturday, December 21, 2013 6:00PM EST
No, it's not to give people extra energy when they're feeling rundown, but the invention could prove invaluable in powering ingested healthcare sensors and in delivering smart drugs.
Just as fully flexible phones are being held back from becoming a reality because of less than flexible battery technology, the next generation of ingestible health sensors and monitoring devices will remain theoretical until a safe way of powering them -- one that doesn't require a patient to be plugged into the mains, or confined to a hospital -- is developed.
As first reported by MIT Technology Review, a team of scientists from Carnegie Mellon may just have cracked it. The battery that they have developed can be safely ingested and will also dissolve within the body without causing any harm when its charge has expired.
And for those that are fussy eaters, don't worry, the batteries are organic, or at least have organic origins, as they're made from cuttlefish, or, to be precise, melanin extracted from cuttlefish ink. That melanin serves as an anode, while the cathode is made from manganese oxide. The result is a very small and not particularly powerful cell but one that's good enough even in this form to power a simple internal sensor and one that's safe to eat.
Although only in the prototype stage, the batteries are part of a bigger project being led by Carnegie Mellon University materials scientist Christopher Bettinger into developing edible electronics that can be taken like pills.
As well as helping to embed and power sensors or circuits within the human body in the future, the batteries could prove invaluable as an alternative way of delivering targeted drugs.
Certain types of medication and treatment have to be delivered via an injection or intravenously in order to bypass the stomach and target a specific area of the body. This means going into hospital. But a battery-powered pill could potentially be taken orally, at home and would be pre-programmed to release its drug after passing through the stomach.