Breakthrough Implant Uses Excess Blood Sugar to Generate Electricity

A unique implantable fuel cell has been created by scientists at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel. It produces electrical energy by utilizing extra blood sugar, or glucose, from tissue.

This achievement could usher in a new era of self-powered implantable medical devices and provide people with type 1 diabetes and other chronic ailments that need for constant monitoring and care.

Insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels, is not produced by the body in people with type 1 diabetes, a chronic illness. Insulin must be administered externally to patients via insulin pumps or injections. But to function, these medical gadgets need a steady source of energy, which is usually provided by either disposable or rechargeable batteries.

According to project principal investigator Martin Fussenegger, "many people, especially in Western industrialized nations, consume more carbohydrates than they need in everyday life, leading to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease."

This gave his team the notion to generate electricity that could power biomedical equipment by harnessing extra metabolic energy.

One ground-breaking invention that might help with this issue is the fuel cell. The anode, or electrode, at the center of the fuel cell is composed of copper-based nanoparticles. Its function is to divide glucose into gluconic acid and a proton, which creates electricity and starts an electric circuit.

The fuel cell resembles a little tea bag that may be inserted beneath the skin since it is covered in alginate, a medical-grade algal product, and wrapped in nonwoven fabric. Glucose from the tissue can enter the fuel cell and be transformed into electrical energy thanks to the alginate.

Subsequently, the scientists connected the fuel cell to a capsule that included synthetic beta cells. Blue LED light or electric current can be used to induce the production and secretion of insulin from these cells. This technology delivers insulin under control while generating power continuously.

The fuel cell begins to produce electricity when it detects an overabundance of glucose. The cells are then stimulated to create and release insulin into the bloodstream using this electrical energy. Blood sugar levels consequently return to normal. Insulin and electricity are no longer produced when the glucose level drops below a particular threshold.

Besides stimulating the designer cells, the fuel cell's electrical energy allows the implanted system to interface with other devices, like a smartphone. This enables prospective users to change the system using an associated app. It might also be remotely accessed and adjusted by a physician.

Fussenegger stated that "the new system autonomously regulates insulin and blood glucose levels and could be used to treat diabetes in the future." Patients who presently require several daily insulin injections or insulin pumps may benefit from this discovery, giving them more freedom and flexibility.

But the current setup is merely a prototype. Even though the researchers have successfully tested it on mice, the necessary human and financial resources prevent them from turning this discovery into a commercial product yet. Such a device would need an industry partner with the necessary funds and expertise to bring it to market.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the significance of this discovery. A new era of self-powered medical devices that might assist millions of people worldwide could be ushered in by the development of an implanted fuel cell that can produce electricity from extra glucose in the body.

Patients with type 1 diabetes and other chronic illnesses that need for constant monitoring and care may find a ground-breaking solution in this idea. Medical technology appears to have a promising future.

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