Electronic medical implants, such as pacemakers to regulate the heart rate and cerebral spinal shunts to control the flow of spinal fluid require a constant source of energy to operate. However, 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 with all its associated risks.
In a new study published in PNAS, a research group from South Korea, led by Professor Jongho Lee at Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) have developed a strategy to recharge the internal battery of devices without invasive surgery or risky penetrative procedures. Prof Lee explains, "One of the greatest demands in biomedical electronic implants is to provide a sustainable electrical power for extended healthy life without battery replacement surgeries." Although this is a tricky concept, Prof Lee believes that the answer lies in the "translucency" of living tissue.
This can be explained through an interesting phenomenon. When you hold your hand up to a powerful light, you can see that the edges of your hand glow as the light passes through your skin. Taking inspiration from this, Prof Lee and his team developed an "active photonic power transfer" method, which can generate electrical power in the body.