The number of medical devices that can be implanted into the human body is constantly increasing (other than classic cardiac pacemakers, insulin sensors, electrodes for deep brain stimulation and many others), but they all have a weak point: the need to be connected to a battery, which needs to be recharged or replaced regularly, and that at times this can be cumbersome. Is it possible to get rid of batteries and find another way to power these sophisticated devices in a continuous and non-invasive manner? Attempts made thus far have highlighted many restrictions, but now researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston, USA, in collaboration with colleagues from the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, also in Boston, have reached a very significant result, which could lead the way to radically new systems, revolutionizing this field of medicine. In practice, they have made a micro-power pack, the size of a grain of rice, which can be installed directly inside some of these devices and charged using a wireless system (WIFI).
Tested on animals, the new micro-power pack appeared to be able to work up to 10cm deep “inside” the body, charging itself using a WIFI generator placed at the distance of one meter from the body. However, on the other hand, if the micro-power pack is located very close to the skin’s surface, the generator can be powered from up to 38 meters away. In the past other researchers have attempted to use WIFI systems, but with little success, because the radio waves emitted from the transmitter (which are harmless for the body) were slowed down and dissipated as they passed through the body. The researchers from MIT managed to overcome this problem by selecting a “mix” of different radio waves, which as they “travel” overlap and combine in different ways, producing a sufficient amount of energy.
The new micro-power pack, say the experts, can be mounted in various types of devices: for example, in special “technological” pills to be swallowed in order to directly check the absorption of anti-malarial drugs in the stomach or other diseases. Or it could also be used in devices inserted in other organs to measure the absorption of glucose, or blood pressure, or bacterial activity (microbiome, in the intestine). The micro-power pack can even be integrated into brain stimulators, for those suffering from Parkinson’s. It is a new frontier that researchers are calling IVN, i.e. In-vivo networking.
Journalist since 1983, has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. Creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by corriere.it on oncology, in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is currently President of the Lugano Science Foundation.