It's easy to imagine how tough it would be to put in a mechanical implant of some kind - a defibrillator, or an artificial heart, or even a gadget to squirt medication as needed - that required significant wattage. But I'm surely not the first one to note that basic chemistry is what metabolism uses to get the energy for muscles, and to think it's too bad there isn't some way to similarly extract energy from the fuels and oxidizers floating along in the bloodstream to run medical implants.
Heart pumps and anything remotely like that are still out of reach, but earlier this month in PLoS ONE an MIT team reported progress toward getting a trickle of electricity from the glucose in provided by living systems - enough to run sensors or muscle stimulators - if not power actuators that do heavy work directly. A hat tip is due to Jim Handman at CBC radio's Quirks and Quarks show, whose site made this post easy by including links to other outlets that covered the news, and even to the press release. Program host Bob McDonald introduces it for Saturday's show with a Canada-centric reminiscence, then goes to the professor who turns out to be quite good, especially perhaps for an MIT engineer, at stringing together perfectly clear explanation on the fly while sounding delighted to be doing so.
The news began circulating about two weeks ago and got wide pickup, mostly in smaller outlets.
- Wired - Katie Drummond: Pentagon's Prosthetic Plan: Tap Spinal Fluid to Fuel Fake Limbs ; The hed gets out ahead of where the research now stands. Drummond notes who pays for it (DoD and DARPA), and the reason that the team took the glucose from cerebrospinal fluid rather than the blood stream. She also links to an earlier Wired story on roughly the same news.
- LiveScience: Cyborg Fuel Cell Powered by Brain Fluids ;
- IEEE Spectrum - Morgen Peck: Prosthetics of the Future: Driven by Thoughts, Powered by Bodily Fluids ;
- PC Magazine - Adario Strange: MIT Creates Flucose Fuel Cell for Brain-to-Computer Interfaces ; A short story without much resourceful reporting evident, but it does provide a link to a video of the chief scientist giving a talk, last year, at a conference sponsored by Google. It is about the basics of computer-neuro interactions, not the bio-fuel-cell thing, but it confirms something: Here is a fine speaker for any general but science-hungry audience.
- Charlie Petit