MIT researchers have developed a new safe-to-swallow battery powered by stomach acid. The technology could significantly aid in the powering of ingestible electronic devices currently being used for drug delivery and internal medical procedures like colonoscopies – as well as other wearable technology.

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MIT drug delivery device

As New Atlas reports, “safe-to-swallow batteries” are currently being developed to power these ingestible electronic devices, but up until recently they have posed problems. This recent development out of MIT is expected to provide a cheaper and safer alternative to those batteries currently on the market.

The battery was the result of a study by a team of MIT researchers led by senior authors, Giovanni Traverso and Robert Langer who have developed a number of internal devices, for which they wanted a safe, reliable power source.

“We need to come up with ways to power these ingestible systems for a long time,” Traverso told New Atlas. “We see the GI tract as providing a really unique opportunity to house new systems for drug delivery and sensing, and fundamental to these systems is how they are powered.”

They started with the fact that the majority of batteries are powered by acid, and realized they could take advantage of acid in the stomach. Their concept is based on the simple battery concept that involves putting a piece of zinc and copper into a lemon, where the citric acid becomes an electrolyte that can carry a current between the two metals – creating enough power to run an LED.

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As New Atlas explains, “The researchers scaled that principle down by attaching their own zinc and copper electrodes to the outside of a small, ingestible device containing a temperature sensor and a 900 MHz transmitter. Like in the lemon, the stomach acid can carry the electric current from the zinc to the copper and power the device, which, when tested in pigs, was able to take temperature readings and then send that data wirelessly, every 12 seconds, to a receiver up to 2 m (6.6 ft) away.”

According to senior author Anantha Chandrakasan, this design solves problems with internal medical devices, such as energy generation, conversion, storage and utilization, opening up new horizons for the technology. “This work allows us to envision new medical devices where the body itself contributes to energy generation enabling a fully self-sustaining system.”

Via New Atlas

Images via MIT