Dissolvable batteries are on their way for the ingestible medical devices of the future

You've heard about stents that absorb back into the body after they release their treatments; Abbott ($ABT) and Elixir Medical are among the companies hard at work on this. Separate research teams are taking the dissolvable idea much further, however, to a place that could have broad impact on the development of future medical and drug-delivery devices. They're developing biodegradable batteries to power ingestible monitors and other devices that break down and dissipate once their jobs are done.

MIT Technology Review reports on both projects. One effort, led by Carnegie Mellon University scientist Christopher Bettinger, involved the development of a prototype battery made with melanin from pigments found in cuttlefish ink. Manganese oxide is also part of the mix. The research team has big plans for the technology, and sees the battery as the basis of a device that patients could swallow.

While such a device is years away, the Carnegie team sees the technology as being useful as a drug-delivery device, creating a literal "smart pill." Such technology could also form the basis of a monitor that patients swallow to measure various functions in the body. Before these products are within reach, however, the researchers must improve their prototype battery to boost how much power it can store and produce, the story explained. But it would be safe in the body, they claim, breaking down into nontoxic components. Details are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The story also cites John Rogers, a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who is working on biodegradable batteries to support dissolvable devices that could deliver drug treatments or monitor activity such as wound healing. They'd be made of dissolvable metals, plus magnesium and molybdenum, according to the article. Details are set to be published in the journal Advanced Materials.

- read the full story
- here's the Carnegie Mellon PNAS abstract

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