Active photonic power transfer tech uses light to charge implants
One of the problems with powered implants such as pacemakers is the fact that when their batteries run out of juice, they have to be surgically replaced. According to a new study, though, it may someday be possible to recharge those batteries by shining light through the patient's skin.
Led by Prof. Jongho Lee, a team of scientists at Korea's Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) have developed what's known as an "active photonic power transfer" system. It consists of a flexible patch containing an array of micro-LEDs, along with a photovoltaic device that's attached to an implant.
When the patch is applied to the skin and its LEDs are switched on, their light shines down through the patient's biological tissue, reaching the device. It responds by generating an electrical current, which is used to recharge the implant's battery – keep in mind that pacemakers are typically located just beneath the skin.
A prototype version of the system has already been tested on mice, successfully recharging implants within the animals' bodies under a variety of settings and environmental conditions.
Once developed further, it is believed that the technology may not only eliminate the need to surgically remove existing implants for battery-changes, but that it could also allow for the creation of new types of implants that have higher power requirements.
"Currently, a lack of a reliable source of power limits the functionality and performance of implant devices," says Lee. "If we can secure enough electrical power in our body, new types of medical implants with diverse functions and high performance can be developed."
And as an interesting side note, Swiss scientists have previously determined that utilizing regular ambient light, solar cells implanted under the skin could generate enough of an electrical current to charge pacemakers' batteries.
A paper on the GIST research was recently published in the journal PNAS.