Powering Medical Devices with Your Organs

human heart image

Image via Vintage Collection (Flickr CC) and Technology Review

Generating power via the motion of our bodies has captivated researchers for some time now. Scientists are working on developing everything from fabrics that can be sewn into energy-harvesting t-shirts or jackets to devices that can be powered by the pumping of our hearts. The latter is the latest research coming out of Georgia Tech, according to a paper published in Applied Materials. By using new battery technology, devices such as pace-makers and other implanted medical devices may never need to be replaced, powered by the very body part they're installed to assist. According to Technology Review, "A tiny, nearly invisible nanowire can convert the energy of pulsing, flexing muscles inside a rat's body into electric current, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have shown."

It is similar to research we have seen come out of Princeton University, whose researchers have created a rubber film that could harvest energy from the body's movement. However, the nanowires developed at Georgia Tech could directly power devices within the body.

So far, the devices have been under development with the hope that one day they'll work inside the body, but Wang's team has shown that their nanogenerator actually works inside a live animal - a rat.

The researchers deposited a zinc oxide nanowire on a flexible polymer substrate and encapsulated the device in a polymer casing to shield it from body fluids. It was then attached to a rat's diaphragm. The rodent's breathing stretched the nanowire, and the device generated four picoamperes of current at two millivolts. When attached to a rat's heart, the device gave 30 picoamperes at three millivolts.

Zinc oxide nanogenerators are ideal for powering devices within the body to measure blood pressure, glucose levels, or even detect cancer biomarkers. But the bigger challenge than coming up with where to apply the device is figuring out how to get the material to have a high enough power output to keep the devices going. Kinetic energy, especially within the body, comes in tiny doses. Researchers still have to figure out how to gather as much energy as possible from the available sources to keep a device running. But the potential is definitely there to have - quite literally - self-powered medical devices.

Here is Dr. Zhong Lin Wang on the potential of these energy-harvesting medical devices:

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Powering Medical Devices with Your Organs
Generating power via the motion of our bodies has captivated researchers for some time