Carnegie Mellon researchers looking at edible batteries as the next drug delivery system

Carnegie Mellon's edible battery.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with an edible battery that has the potential to become a new drug delivery system that can target medicines to specific parts of the body.

The battery, which uses nontoxic materials that are found in the human body, might be able to deliver drugs to regions of the human body where they can be effectively absorbed, Newsweek reported.

The cornerstone ingredient of the batteries is melanin, which is found in the eyes, hair and skin. Melanin has the ability to connect and disconnect with ions just as a battery does, and can act either as a positive or negative with minerals like magnesium. Starch or other carbohydrates can be used to bind the two.

Once the battery is swallowed, fluids inside the human body make the circuit connection and the device is turned on.

Christopher Bettinger, an associate professor of materials science at Carnegie Mellon, said the battery generates a half a volt of power and at about 2 millimeters thick and up to a half inch in diameter has enough power for about 20 hours. If it were to become lodged inside the body the device would eventually degrade in several weeks.

The researchers said they’re also looking at adding sensors that could determine types of bacteria in a patient’s intestinal tract, which might help in treating obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.

- here’s the Newsweek story

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