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Medical implants powered using the translucency of human skin

Image credit: GIST(GWANGJU INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY)

Researchers have discovered how to power devices embedded into the human body by sending photons through translucent human skin.

Over recent decades, medical implant devices such as pacemakers, which regulate the heart rate, and cerebral spinal shunts, which control the flow of spinal fluid, have grown in popularity.

However, replacing their batteries when they run out of energy can involve a complex operation that has its own risks for the patient.

South Korean researchers, led by Professor Jongho Lee, believe their new project can allow internal batteries to be recharged without invasive surgery or risky penetrative procedures.

“One of the greatest demands in biomedical electronic implants is to provide a sustainable electrical power for extended healthy life without battery replacement surgeries,” he explained.

Taking inspiration from the natural translucency of human skin, the team developed an “active photonic power transfer” method, which can generate electrical power in the body.

The novel system consists of two parts: a skin-attachable micro-LED source patch, which can generate photons that would penetrate through the tissues, and a photovoltaic device integrated into a medical implant, which can capture the photons and generate electrical energy.

This system provides a sustainable way of supplying the medical implant device with enough power to avoid any high-risk replacement methods.

“Currently, a lack of a reliable source of power limits the functionality and performance of implant devices,” Lee said. “If we can secure enough electrical power in our body, new types of medical implants with diverse functions and high performance can be developed.”

When tested in mice, this wireless power transfer system was found to be easy to use, regardless of weather, clothes or environmental conditions.

The light photons emitted from the source patch successfully penetrated live tissues in mice and recharged the device in a convenient and wireless manner.

“These results enable the long-term use of currently available implants, in addition to accelerating emerging types of electrical implants that require higher power to provide diverse, convenient diagnostic and therapeutic functions in human bodies,” Lee said.

“Our device would probably not work for ‘Iron Man,’ but it can provide enough power for medical implants.”

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