Futuristic it does sound, but today researchers are developing edible electronic devices that could be implanted in the body to improve patient care.
"We are creating electronically active medical devices that can be implanted in the body," said Christopher Bettinger, PhD (pictured), an assistant professor in the departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and a
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
affiliated faculty member. "The idea is for a patient to consume a pill that encapsulates the device."
Dr. Bettinger, along with Jay Whitacre, PhD, a professor of materials science and engineering at CMU, is creating edible power sources for medical devices that can be taken orally using materials found in the daily diet.
"Our design involves flexible polymer electrodes and a sodium ion electrochemical cell, which allows us to fold the mechanism into an edible pill that encapsulates the device," Dr. Bettinger said.
CMU researchers report that the edible device could be programmed and deployed in the gastrointestinal tract or the small intestine depending upon packaging. Once the battery packaging is in place, Dr. Bettinger's team would activate the battery.
Dr. Bettinger reports that the battery could power biosensors to measure biomarkers or monitor gastric problems. The battery also could be used to stimulate damaged tissue or help in targeted drug delivery for certain types of cancer.
"There's so much out there we can do with this novel approach to medical devices," said Dr. Bettinger, a recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research for his innovative work on advanced materials for next-generation implanted medical devices.
Dr. Bettinger has worked for more than a decade at the interface of materials science and biomedical engineering. Some of his innovative technologies include new synthetic materials that mimic the natural properties of soft tissue and biodegradable electronics that could usher in a new era of electronically active implants.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Carnegie Mellon University Press Release (04/10/13)
PR Newswire (04/10/13)
CBS Pittsburgh (04/11/13)
Abstract (Journal of Materials Chemistry B, 2013, Advance Article 03/07/13.)