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The new twist to the MIT fuel cell described in PLoS ONE is that it is fabricated from silicon, using the same technology used to make semiconductor electronic chips. The fuel cell has no biological components: It consists of a platinum catalyst that strips electrons from glucose, mimicking the activity of cellular enzymes that break down glucose to generate ATP, the cell’s energy currency. So far, the fuel cell can generate up to hundreds of microwatts — enough to power an ultra-low-power and clinically useful neural implant.
The idea of a glucose fuel cell is not new: In the 1970s, scientists showed they could power a pacemaker with a glucose fuel cell, but the idea was abandoned in favor of lithium-ion batteries, which could provide significantly more power per unit area than glucose fuel cells. These glucose fuel cells also utilized enzymes that proved to be impractical for long-term implantation in the body, since they eventually ceased to function efficiently.
The Department of Defense is planning to implant microchips in soldiers’ brains for monitoring their health information, and has already awarded a $1.6 million contract to the Center for Bioelectronics, Biosensors and Biochips (C3B) at Clemson University for the development of an implantable “biochip”.
Such prosthetics might work with a pair of eyeglasses that contain a webcam. The camera would then relay information to a chip in the person's brain to activate the "mind's eye", the part of the brain known as the "occipital lobe" or the visual cortex.
In a study, published in Neuroscience, the team -- which is focused on repairing disorders of the brain and nervous system -- managed to stimulate the brain to create the illusion of a flash of light called a "phosphene". They used tiny electrical charges to stimulate the occitipal lobe in order to fool the brain into perceiving things that aren't there. Currently researchers can only generate one flash at a time -- many more would be needed in order to create meaningful images. The team estimates that twenty-seven of so simultaneous flashes might allow participants to see the outline of a letter
Nanobiology, as a field of study, signifies the merger of biological research with nanotechnologies such as nanodevices, nanoparticles, or unique nanoscale phenomena. Although molecular biologists have been working with nano-sized biomolecules for the last few decades, nanobiology was not defined as a discipline until researchers started making a focused effort to use our knowledge of nanotechnology to tackle biological problems.
He predicted that the Holy Grail of simply mixing biochemicals and organic salts to create a computer will occur in the 20 to 50 year timeframe.
At least that’s the idea of one group of MIT researchers, who are working with Pentagon funding to create fluid, lifelike, neurally mediated prosthetic limbs. They’ve already designed the brain-implant portion of such a prosthetic, which is meant to interface with the brain’s neurons and communicate those signals to the artificial limb. Now they’ve come up with novel new fuel cells to power that implant … by squeezing energy out of the patient’s own spinal fluid.
We demonstrate computationally that the natural recirculation of cerebrospinal fluid around the human brain theoretically permits glucose energy harvesting at a rate on the order of at least 1 mW with no adverse physiologic effects. Low-power brain–machine interfaces can thus potentially benefit from having their implanted units powered or recharged by glucose fuel cells.