Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are actively developing a biodegradable battery that could be ingested and used to power controlled-release medicine dispensers or monitoring devices with “previously impossible” precision and safety.
Ingestible, powered pills already exist but as Bloomberg correctly points out, they rely on miniature batteries that contain toxic components. The toxic material is quarantined, of course, but if the device gets stuck or otherwise malfunctions, the contents could spill out.
Led by Christopher Bettinger, associate professor of materials science and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, researchers are developing batteries made of chemicals that the human body is already accustomed to.
One material that’s high on their list is melanin, an ultraviolet-light-blocking pigment that naturally occurs in our skin, hair and eyes. Melanin is also found in foods such as squid ink pasta meaning it’s safe to consume in large quantities.
The idea is that, once the biodegradable battery is ingested, it will come into contact with ions in the gut that will activate its flow of current. In its current phase, the battery would only last up to 20 hours but that’s more than enough for some types of treatment.
Bettinger said there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done before the technology will reach the market. The next step, he told Bloomberg, is finding and working with partners to determine exactly how to implement them in the real world.