Researchers develop way to power implants with photonic wireless system

28 July 2020


Medical implants, such as pacemakers, serve various functions in patients and help to improve their quality of life. But, to power these devices, re-implants and invasive surgery are often required, which may lead to a risk of surgical complications.

In search of a more permanent solution, scientists at GIST, Korea, developed a photonic device that reduces the need for re-implants, paving the way for a breakthrough in medical implant technology.

Over the past few decades, medtech has seen various advances in terms of the scope and efficiency of implant devices. For example, developments in medical research have led to the emergence of electronic implants, such as pacemakers to regulate the heart rate and cerebral spinal shunts to control the flow of spinal fluid. Most of these medical devices, including the pacemaker, require a constant source of energy to operate. This can cause some limitations: batteries, which provide an energy source for the implants, have a finite lifespan. Once the battery power gets exhausted, there is no other option but to perform invasive surgery to replace the battery, which poses a risk of surgical complications, such as bruising, infections, and other adverse events.

In a new study published in PNAS, a research group from South Korea, led by Professor Jongho Lee at GIST, dug deeper to find a solution: they attempted to develop a strategy to recharge the internal battery of devices without invasive surgery or risky penetrative procedures.

Prof Lee and his team developed an “active photonic power transfer” method, which can generate electrical power in the body. This system consisted 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.

Prof Lee said: “One of the greatest demands in biomedical electronic implants is to provide a sustainable electrical power for extended healthy life without battery replacement surgeries.

“Currently, a lack of a reliable source of power limits the functionality and performance of implant devices. 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 the scientists tested this power system in mice, they found that this wireless power transfer system can be used regardless of weather, clothes, indoor or outdoor conditions, etc. The light photons emitted from the source patch successfully penetrated live tissues in mice and recharged the device.

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

Published by Med-Tech Innovations on July 13, 2020
Image by Shutterstock


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