More than nine million people around the world are born with diabetes. Those lucky enough to be able to control it rely on electronic pumps to shoot insulin into their bloodstreams when needed.
Those pumps need external power supplies that need to be monitored.
At ETH Zurich, Switzerland’s technology university, researchers have figured out how to let the body power the pump.
Their device resembles a small teabag and is implanted under the skin. The bag is coated with a water-loving, edible extract from algae.
The algae extract absorbs body fluid and blood, which then enter the device through its fabric wall.
Inside the biopump, nanoparticles made of a copper-based compound convert glucose—the sugar from which the body makes energy—into gluconic acid. That process releases a proton and initiates an electric current.
The current travels to a pouch containing artificial beta cells the researchers had created previously. Beta cells produce insulin.
When the device sees too much glucose in the blood, it generates an electric current that jolts the beta cells to produce insulin. When glucose levels return to normal, the device notices and shuts itself off.
“Many people, especially in industrialized nations, consume more carbohydrates than they need,” ETH bioengineer Martin Fussenegger told Science magazine. “This gave us the idea of using this excess metabolic energy to produce electricity to power biomedical devices.”
The group is looking for an industrial partner to commercialize its invention.
TRENDPOST: The device could be adapted to power pacemakers, sensors, and a range of other implanted electrical devices, which will grow in numbers as technology continues to miniaturize and medical science devises more ways to monitor biological processes and events.