Drug-delivery devices could run on power from the body

It's the stuff of science fiction: Batteries running on natural energy sources in the body. Yet developers of so-called "bio fuel cells" have advanced their prototypes into small-animal testing, and there's a chance that drug-delivery systems and implants such as pacemakers could someday be powered by such devices, according to a BBC story.

At the Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, for example, a team of researchers tested a bio fuel cell in rats last year that successfully converted glucose and oxygen in the bodies of the rodents to produce electricity for the gadget for 40 days, the BBC article says. To draw electrons from glucose, the system uses an electrode made with the enzyme glucose oxidase mixed with conductive carbon nanotubes. That electrode and other parts of the tiny system are kept from leaking into the body and are wrapped in a mesh to prevent immune reactions, according to the report. Multiple groups in the U.K. and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have also contributed to bio fuel cell research.

With existing battery-powered implants, procedures are required to replace the batteries before they expire. These implants include pacemakers and some drug-delivery systems. But the bio fuel cells could potentially run longer than existing systems by tapping the natural power sources in the body. This is likely years away from becoming a reality. What works in rats often needs serious tweaking to operate properly in humans. The group in Grenoble wants to test its technology next in cows, the BBC reported, giving the team a better idea of how the system operates in a large mammal.

"Today we can generate enough power to supply an artificial urinary sphincter, or pacemaker," Dr. Serge Cosnier, of Joseph Fourier University, told the BBC. "We are already working on a system that can produce 50 times that amount of power, then we will have enough to supply much more demanding devices."

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