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Biotech Medicine Power Hardware Science

MIT Creates Glucose Fuel Cell To Power Implanted Brain-Computer Interfaces 95

MrSeb writes "Neuroengineers at MIT have created an implantable fuel cell that generates electricity from the glucose present in the cerebrospinal fluid that flows around your brain and spinal cord. The glucose-powered fuel cell is crafted out of silicon and platinum, using standard semiconductor fabrication processes. The platinum acts as a catalyst, stripping electrons from glucose molecules, similar to how aerobic animal cells (such as our own) strip electrons from glucose with enzymes and oxygen. The glucose fuel cell produces hundreds of microwatts (i.e. tenths of a milliwatt), which is a surprisingly large amount — it comparable to the solar cell on a calculator, for example. This should be more than enough power to drive complex computers — or perhaps more interestingly, trigger clusters of neurons in the brain. In theory, this glucose fuel cell will actually deprive your brain of some energy, though in practice you probably won't notice (or you might find yourself growing hungry sooner)."
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MIT Creates Glucose Fuel Cell To Power Implanted Brain-Computer Interfaces

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @06:50PM (#40315881)

    Could this lower your blood sugar?

    • I guess if you're healthy, the normal regulation mechanism will keep the blood sugar level constant. However I wonder what effect it might have on people with diabetes.

    • An even better question, how does it respond to low blood sugar? Might need to design in a small capacitor or other storage mechanism, otherwise, it might crash when you blood glucose level does.

    • Related: could it burn excess calories for you?

  • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @06:50PM (#40315887)

    Just fill-up you tank with some corn syrup (glucose) and go. When the fluid is depleted of energy, dump it into a sewer and then get some fresh corn syrup.

  • by ISoldat53 ( 977164 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @06:58PM (#40315985)
    Gives new meaning to "a sugar high."
  • Unanswered Questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter@earthli[ ]net ['nk.' in gap]> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:02PM (#40316025) Journal

    TFA leaves some important questions unanswered.

    What is the byproduct/waste product of the glucose after it's been harvested of its electrons? What are the effects of these byproducts in the CSF?

    If there is significant glucose in the CSF as TFA states, why is it there? What effects could its depletion cause? How fast is it replenished? Is this fast enough to provide adequate continuous power for a [cochlear implant|pacemaker|mathcoprocessor|frikkin'laser]?

    I'm not opposed to cybernetic implants powered by the beer and pizza I already consume, but I sure want to know that the researchers and engineers did their homework first.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mpeskett ( 1221084 )

      I'm not opposed to cybernetic implants powered by the beer and pizza I already consume, but I sure want to know that the researchers and engineers did their homework first.

      Nah, sounds more likely that the people who have spent however much of their lives on enough study/research to build this thing, all just failed to consider the simple potential problem you came up with in under 15 minutes. That sounds plausible, have a cookie.

      • He's not saying they don't have an answer, he's saying he wants to know it. Unless you can contribute to that end, keep your pointless snide remarks to yourself.

        • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter@earthli[ ]net ['nk.' in gap]> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @08:43PM (#40317207) Journal

          It's OK. I'll take the cookie anyway.

          I'm gonna need it to power my cybernetics.

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            My cybernetic implant is already powered by glucose. It's an artificial lens on struts that was implanted in my left eye to replace the natural lens, and the muscles that focused the natural lens (before I got middle aged) focus the implant (I'm 60 and need no corrective lenses, not even reading glasses). Since muscles are powered by food, part of what powers the lens is glucose.

            It seems like they could design any number of electronic implants to be powered by the body's natural movement. Maybe a pacemaker

    • by Beardo the Bearded ( 321478 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:30PM (#40316359)

      Well, there is a little bit of a byproduct. You'd hardly notice, but there's a bit of, well, a teensy, tiny, little bit of psychosis. The depleted glucose mimics a neurotransmitter, but it's in such a small amount that it's basically zero.

      It doesn't really matter unless you're putting a LOT of cybernetics in there.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If there is significant glucose in the CSF as TFA states, why is it there?

      The glucose level is similar to the blood glucose level, this is because CSF acts as blood for the brain. Glucose passes through the blood-brain barrier easily, so this wouldn't get depleted easily any more than glucose getting depleted from blood does. Only diabetics should have a specific issue with this.

    • Ask any diabetic.Just keep some candy handy in case your blood glucose drops too low.Works for me.

  • by Brad1138 ( 590148 ) <brad1138@yahoo.com> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:17PM (#40316213)
    I have seen this coming for a while. Implantable computers, now with internal power supply, Google glasses, thought recognition. The Star trek vision of the Borg, though crude and ugly, may have not been far off the mark. Smart phones may already be making us dumber [psychologytoday.com]. It is scary to think where this will lead.
    • My priest mentioned this a couple of weeks ago. My thought was that if the unexamined life is not worth living, then perhaps unconsidered knowledge is not worth knowing. Direct feed data may be a waste of time.
  • by vix86 ( 592763 )
    Ghost in the Shell [wikipedia.org] just got a bit closer to being real. Now we just need to advance microbot and nanotechnology.
  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:28PM (#40316325)

    I don't want anything drinking my spinal fluid. My blood... maybe... but my spinal fluid?... nope.

    • It's pretty creepy - but I think it is less creepy than the yeast they developed to generate energy from glucose in blood: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16882-yeastpowered-fuel-cell-feeds-on-human-blood.html [newscientist.com]

      At least this solution doesn't involve fungus...
      • you find the thing that feeds on spinal fluid less creepy then the stuff that feeds on blood?

        have any idea how much we bleed? I cut myself all the time and that isn't including all sorts of other bleeding. We can stand to loose a little blood. But spinal fluid?... I'd just assume not f' with that.

        • Man, you're opening yourself up on with one.

          HAHA, I KILL ME.

        • you find the thing that feeds on spinal fluid less creepy then the stuff that feeds on blood?

          It isn't because I don't like bleeding, or have issues with seeing blood, it's because the stuff that feeds on blood is biological, and so can mutate, and who knows what it will do to you if the mutated yeast becomes particularly virulent and dominant. While the stuff that feeds on spinal fluid is just a pretty simple chemical reaction with a catalyst, and doesn't have the ability to start self-multiplying in your body.

          • oh, yeah... I'm not worried about it mutating. I am worried about a little bit breaking lose into my blood stream, forming a cloat, and then growing like a flesh eating bacteria in my body.

            Ideally, I'd want a chemical system and not a biological system that took energy from my body.

            Worst case, you could hook something up to the diaphragm. So breathing in/out would generate a tiny amount of power. Ideally not much so the resistance would be minimal.

        • I'd just assume not f' with that.

          Oh great, is this the next "I could care less"?

          • Brother... Spinal. Fluid. Do you have any idea how sensitive that is? Blood is one thing... you can have increases and decreases in blood pressure without really having big problems. But spinal fluid is a different kettle of fish. You really don't want to mess with that.

            All I was saying was that I would be too afraid to have a machine interact with it unless I had no options. To save my life?... sure what do I have to lose. But short of that, leave it alone.

            • Weird, I must have said something relevant to your point in alternate universe, rather than just picking on your grammar :)

              But anyway, now that I've broken the rules and read the article, it sounds like most uses they plan on putting this to will be for people who have already suffered spinal damage. Those of us who just want to program the TIVO with their minds will just have to wait.

              You really don't want to mess with that.

              The MIT guys (and it might be safe to assume they have at least one medical degree between them) seem to think differently.

  • Doing all these fantastic achievements using lower cost components. Every time I read an article on Slashdot, it's always talking about some amazing achievement with solar cells or batteries using a combination of gold, platinum and unobtainium. Rare earths are going to get MUCH more rare in our lifetimes.
    • by lennier ( 44736 )

      Rare earths are going to get MUCH more rare in our lifetimes.

      No problem, the free market will always find a rational way to subsitute resources. For instance, if freshly mined platinum becomes rare, then the street price of er, 'involuntarily recovered platinum' from slightly used cybernetics will rise to compensate...

  • Fuck the brain-computer device. Let me put some of these in blood to control glucose for diabetes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why has no one made a battery which runs on body fat? Can you imagine that. THAT would fuel cyber implant uptake no end.

  • forget computers, this will make way more money as a weight loss device - dial up your artificial metabolism folks, summer is coming!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I am a diabetic and would love this as an application for a sugar control. i suffer from type 2 so I have way to much energy in my blood. imagine this turn this into a capacitive electronic chagrining system. I am my own charger for my iphone, laptop, tablet... that is awesome

      • by wcrowe ( 94389 )

        I'm a type 1 and this was the first thing that came to my mind too, i.e., glucose control.

        Another thing that occurred to me: I wonder if utilizing the glucose can give an indication of glucose level in the blood? It might be an implantable, reliable, continuous glucose monitoring system as well as a system to burn off excess glucose. This sounds a lot simpler and more reliable than the "artificial pancreas" systems that are currently being developed.

  • by nickersonm ( 1646933 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @10:46PM (#40318261)
    This looks quite similar to a European effort reported last year [slashdot.org] that successfully tested glucose fuel cells in rats in 2010. This MIT one can be fabricated in silicon, though, so hopefully has the potential to be cheaper.
  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @11:14PM (#40318439)

    If it doesn't have a high tolerance for alcohol and occasional other recreational medications, I'd be screwed.

  • Goodie, goodie...

    Just what people who have sinovial fluid problems need, something else to deplete nutrients in the spinal column.

    • Yeah, and think of all of the people without brains. These scientists sure are not very bright to research something so useless.
  • As a diabetic, I could run a whole cluster of a neurocomputers.

"Everyone's head is a cheap movie show." -- Jeff G. Bone