- Scientists are continuously innovating and striving to improve existing diagnostic and treatment modalities.
- One such area of research is in the field of developing edible, biodegradable and safe battery powered systems to be used in drug delivery or bio-sensing systems.
- Existing such devices are non-bio-degradable as they are powered by batteries.
- A team of scientists has been successful in creating edible power sources for ingestible medical devices, using naturally occurring materials such as melanin.
Why do we need Edible Battery Powered Devices
‘Edible batteries on the menu for a Power breakfast to cure and heal. ’
AdvertisementIt may sound futuristic, but such edible electronic devices may well become the future of targeted drug delivery in cancer treatment, stimulating damaged tissue or to power bio-sensors that measure bio-markers or to monitor gastric problems.
Such edible batteries might one day power medical implants which disintegrate within the body itself, instead of having to be surgically removed.
Many more applications for such devices may be found in the future, making medical treatment really cutting edge and path breaking.
Present status of ingestible Battery powered devices
Scientists did develop ingestible electronic battery powered devices around two decades ago.
A battery powered ingestible camera was developed as an aid to endoscopic devices that would image inaccessible regions of the gastrointestinal tract. These devices are designed in such a way that they pass through the system and are excreted. While they may be safe for single use purposes, the concern of toxicity or things going wrong with the device while inside may deter repeated use on the same patient.
This naturally creates certain limitations when such devices need to be used repeatedly on the same patient such as drug delivery system to treat cancer.
How is the newly developed ingestible battery different?
Dr Christopher Bettinger, Ph.D. of Carnegie Mellon University hoped to address the issue of
potential toxicity limiting the use of presently available ingestible devices.
Towards this end, they turned to melanin, a naturally occurring pigment in hair and eyes.
Melanins absorb ultraviolet light to quench free radicals and protect skin damage. They also bind and unbind metallic ions. "We thought, this is basically a battery," Bettinger says.
They designed and tested various batteries using melanin pigment in either the positive or negative terminal.
Other materials for the electrode, such as manganese oxide and sodium titanium phosphate; and cations such as copper and iron were used. These are elements that the body uses for normal functioning.
We found basically that they work," says Hang-Ah Park, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher at CMU. "We can power a 5 milli Watt device for up to 18 hours using 600 milligrams of active melanin material as a cathode."
Though the capacity may appear low when compared to say, a Lithium battery, it would be sufficient to power an ingestible drug delivery system or a bio-sensing device.
Some of the possible applications for Bettinger's battery include using as a bio-sensor in the gut to sense microbial flora alterations and appropriately respond by releasing the medicine.
It may be used to deliver bursts of vaccine over a specific period before finally degrading.
Other modifications on the ingestible batteries
Bettingers team is developing edible batteries using materials other than melanin. One of them is pectin , a naturally occurring gelling agent used in jams and jellies.
Next is the issue of how to deliver the battery to the stomach or what packaging material to use to encapsulate the device. The packaging material should be able to withstand the acid environment of the stomach.
Bettinger's team are working on developing safe and acid resistant packaging material.
Says Bettinger, " The pill will have a form that is similar to a vitamin. The device will undergo programmed deployment in the gastrointestinal tract, depending on the packaging - after which the battery will activate".
This device may well prove to be a path-breaking invention in the field of modern medicine. As with any new invention, regulatory hurdles have to be crossed. The researchers hope that since they have developed an edible device, approval may be expedited, since ingestible devices do not need to be sterilized.