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Creature power

The body’s chemistry may energize pacemakers or search-and-rescue roaches

2:53pm, February 21, 2014

CREATURE POWER  Biological fuel cells that generate electricity by harnessing sugars and oxygen in the body may one day power implanted devices in humans and other animals.

Sometime in the future: A patient leaves the hospital with a new pacemaker implanted next to her heart to steady its beat. Her older brother, who went through the same procedure a few years earlier, will soon need another major surgery to replace his pacemaker’s batteries. But she won’t. Her device can generate its own electricity indefinitely with sugar and oxygen harvested from her bloodstream.

Scientists are racing to perfect the technology that could make this possible. If they succeed, these “biological fuel cells” could usher in a new wave of medical devices smaller and more versatile than today’s batteries allow.

A pacemaker requires a lot of power, so it may not be the first medical device to go battery free. But what about a contact lens that monitors glucose levels in patients with diabetes? Powering it with the chemicals in tears is not so far-fetched. A patient-powered skin patch may one day measure temperature around a surgical

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