Jun 172012

The team of MIT researchers, led by Rahul Sarpeshkar and Jakub Kedzierski, reported developing a Si-based fuel cell that can break down glucose and harvest its energy. The device operates by collecting the electrons liberated during electrooxidation of glucose at the anode, while the liberated protons travel to the cathode through the solution. The subsequent reduction of protons and electrons, catalyzed at the cathode, restores the net charge neutrality in the solution (or tissue). Since glucose is present in the brain and spinal cord, including the cerebrospinal fluid, the fuel cell can operate autonomously at the implantation site, without the need for supplying the fuel. Moreover, the catalyzing agent for the anodic reaction can be produced by a bacterial biofilm, which has a self-regenerating capability (although this approach might not be suitable for humans due to the biosafety concerns). Researchers calculate that a very small fraction of available glucose will be used, therefore not impacting normal brain consumption of glucose. The prototype device was able to harvest the energy at the power density up to 100 µW/cm2, which is sufficient for operation of the ultra-low-power analog electronics that is also being developed by Dr. Sarpeshkar. Harvesting the biological energy is important for removing the batteries or inductive coils from the implanted neuroprosthetic device, and consequently shrinking its size and reducing the number of feedthoughs and leads from the device. Harvesting the energy of organic compounds, such as glucose, it just one possible method of collecting the energy from biological environment, while other groups are evaluating the absorption of light, heat and mechanical vibration.

  3 Responses to “Glucose-harvesting fuel cell for powering neuroprosthetic devices”

  1. This Rahul dude has never gotten any medical device into any patient. TWENTY
    years ago Rahul was talking about fully implantable cochlear implants that would last 30 years on one battery. That went no where, His design is not used by any of the THREE cochlear implant makers, The guy is all big talk and nothing happens. He provides enough hot air to lift a blimp. Maybe he could design that device.

    • Work from Prof. Sarpeshkar’s lab on an ultra-low-power cochlear-implant processor did not even come out until 2005, which is only a few years ago, not 20, and it did work on a real patient. Since then there have been a steady stream of innovations and world records for neural and brain implants that can be verified with facts in rigorous publications that describe the work on his website. All of these pieces are necessary to build a complete neural implant not just a processor, and the glucose fuel cell is a wonderful and highly imaginative piece of such a system.

      Getting an implantable medical device through FDA approval can take 10+ years not to mention that companies don’t want to license patents and innovations from others that would cost them significant money to develop. An implantable medical device company requires significant capital and labor. Several cochlear-implant companies have worked for 15-20 years to commercialize relatively simple devices let alone highly innovative ones from a university lab. That’s why there are only 3 in spite of decades of research.

      It is best not to slander good scientists and engineers with false facts who are doing their best to innovate and make the world a better place and who are trying hard to get their devices into patients.

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