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Researchers turn to spinal fluid to power human brain implants

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A group of researchers at MIT have developed a new system that would utilize the glucose found in the body's spinal fluid to power brain implants.

Glucose fuel cell brain implant
Glucose fuel cell brain implant

Brain implants that can help restore life to previously-paralyzed limbs are creeping closer to reality, but an important issue with such approaches is the matter of power. A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think they've licked the problem with a new system that uses the glucose present in human spinal fluid. The system works by implanting a power cell — a platinum shell containing a computer chip and two electrodes separated by a thin membrane — into the brain's cerebrospinal fluid, where it instigates the oxidation of the glucose molecules present in the fluid. The brain itself derives fuel from glucose, albeit in a much more efficient manner. Just like the brain, the fuel cell has its own power source replenished whenever the user eats or drinks. The implant being used in the system only requires 100 microwatts of energy, making it ideal for the glucose-powered solution.

Team leader Dr. Rahul Sarpeshkar told Wired that the low power needs were an important part of the proposed system, explaining that other implants rely on batteries. "If a battery needs replacement every five years," he said, "you don't necessarily want to be implanting that inside the brain." That said, the system — published in a paper today — is still in the conceptual stages, and has yet to be tested on either animals or humans. Still, we can't help but get excited at the potential benefits solutions like this can offer in the not-too-distant future.