Implanted biosensors have several advantages over wearables or carryable devices, but implantables also raise questions about power sources. Adherence and data reliability is better than with traditional wearables; no one has to remember to carry or wear an implant. However, how are you going to power it? The prospect of battery changes for an implanted device, even if measured in years apart, is not pleasant. We’ve written about work with implants powered by a variety of energy-harvesting strategies, including bacteria, ultrasound, and the triboelectric effect of two surfaces rubbing together.

Researchers from several disciplines at Washington State University at Pullman recent announced a biofuel sensor that runs on glucose. The team documented their work in the IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems journal. The project is led by Subhanshu Gupta, assistant professor in WSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. According to Gupta, the implanted biofuel cell produces a few microwatts of power by using blood glucose as fuel. The researchers say the biofuel cells can be manufactured in bulk at low cost and paired with a variety of biosensors. The WSU power structure is an enabling technology.

Initial testing of the WSU biofuel sensor integrated with electronics demonstrated that the system was able to process signals with high accuracy levels. The next steps at WSU include testing in blood capillaries and increasing the biofuel cell’s power output. If glucose-powered fuel cells get FDA approval, the platform could support a wide range of implantable sensors that run on an essentially endless power supply.