Biodegradable battery could power embedded health sensors

Embeddable sensors that can track a person’s vitals could eventually be a boon for healthcare, but something equally small, portable, and safe is going to have to power those sensors. Researchers from the University of Illinois may have an answer: batteries that slowly decompose in the body. Using magnesium and either iron, tungsten, or molybdenum, the researchers were able to build a small battery that delivered a constant output for at least 24 hours. 

A biodegradable, implantable battery could help in the development of biomedical devices that monitor tissue or deliver treatments before being reabsorbed by the body after use. “This is a really major advance,” says Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer at Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research and development centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Until recently, there has not been a lot of progress in this area.” In 2012, materials scientist John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign unveiled a range of biodegradable silicon chips1that could monitor temperature or mechanical strain, radio the results to external devices, and even heat up tissue to prevent infection (see ‘Biodegradable electronics here today, gone tomorrow’).

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