I posted a very brief item (April 3, 2009) about some research being done at the University of British Columbia (UBC in Vancouver, Canada) on potential medical devices called ‘vampire batteries’, which use blood as fuel. The UBC team is not alone in its pursuit. A July 15, 2011 news item, Electricity from blood sugar, on Nanowerk, highlights similar research in Germany,
Implants that obtain their energy from blood sugar and oxygen: Dr. Sven Kerzenmacher at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) of the University of Freiburg is researching the development of biological fuel cells with the goal of finding an inexhaustible source of power in the human body. He has been awarded the 2011 FAM Research Prize for his dissertation by the Forum for Applied Microsystems Technology (FAM). …
Researchers have yet to find an optimal method for supplying implantable medical microsystems with electrical energy. The batteries of a pacemaker, for instance, need to be replaced after roughly eight years—meaning a strenuous and expensive surgical intervention for the patient. An alternative approach is to use rechargeable batteries. However, the necessity of recharging the batteries greatly reduces the patient’s quality of life. The idea behind Sven Kerzenmacher’s research, on the other hand, is the possibility of using implantable glucose fuel cells on the basis of noble metal catalysts like platinum. Such catalysts are particularly well suited for use in implant systems due to their long-term stability and the fact that they can be sterilized. In the future, systems equipped with these fuel cells could be supplied with power by way of a continuous electrochemical reaction between glucose and oxygen from the tissue fluid.
Here’s what the team at UBC was doing (from the April 1, 2009 New Scientist article by Kurt Kleiner,),
A team at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has created tiny microbial fuel cells by encapsulating yeast cells in a flexible capsule. They went on to show the fuel cells can generate power from a drop of human blood plasma.
There is no mention of clinical trials, human or otherwise in the news item about the work in Germany or at UBC, which makes it difficult to guess how close they are to using these fuel cells in patients but I imagine there are still several years of lab work ahead given this comment from Kleiner’s 2009 article about the UBC team’s work. A colleague at Cornell noted,
The work is a step in the right direction, but huge challenges remain, says Lars Angenent, who works on microbial fuel cells at Cornell University.
For instance, to keep the yeast cells healthy, their waste products will need to be removed without allowing any harmful substances to leach out into the blood stream.