Medical implants such as pacemakers serve various functions in patients and help to improve their quality of life. But to power these devices, re-implants and invasive surgery are often required, which may lead to a risk of surgical complications. In search of a more permanent solution, researchers developed a photonic device that reduces the need for re-implants.

Over the past few decades, medical technology has seen various advances in terms of the scope and efficiency of implanted devices; for example, developments in medical research have led to the emergence of electronic implants such as pacemakers to regulate the heart rate and cerebral spinal shunts to control the flow of spinal fluid. Most of these medical devices, including the pacemaker, require a constant source of energy to operate. This causes some limitations. Batteries, which provide an energy source for the implants, have a finite lifespan. Once the battery power gets exhausted, there is no other option but to perform invasive surgery to replace the battery, which poses a risk of surgical complications such as bruising, infections, and other adverse events.

The new technology recharges the internal battery of devices without invasive surgery or risky penetrative procedures using the “translucency” of living tissue. This can be explained through an interesting phenomenon. When you hold your hand up to a powerful light, you can see that the edges of your hand glow as the light passes through your skin. Taking inspiration from this, the researchers developed an “active photonic power transfer” method that can generate electrical power in the body.

This novel system consists of two parts: a skin-attachable micro-LED source patch, which can generate photons that would penetrate through the tissues, and a photovoltaic device integrated into a medical implant, which can capture the photons and generate electrical energy. This system provides a sustainable way of supplying the medical implant device with enough power to avoid any high-risk replacement methods.

The technology enables the long-term use of currently available implants, in addition to accelerating emerging types of electrical implants that require higher power to provide diverse, convenient diagnostic and therapeutic functions in human bodies.

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