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Nat Biotechnol. 2012 Dec;30(12):1240-3. doi: 10.1038/nbt.2394. Epub 2012 Nov 8.

Energy extraction from the biologic battery in the inner ear.

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Microsystem Technology Laboratories, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.


Endocochlear potential (EP) is a battery-like electrochemical gradient found in and actively maintained by the inner ear. Here we demonstrate that the mammalian EP can be used as a power source for electronic devices. We achieved this by designing an anatomically sized, ultra-low quiescent-power energy harvester chip integrated with a wireless sensor capable of monitoring the EP itself. Although other forms of in vivo energy harvesting have been described in lower organisms, and thermoelectric, piezoelectric and biofuel devices are promising for mammalian applications, there have been few, if any, in vivo demonstrations in the vicinity of the ear, eye and brain. In this work, the chip extracted a minimum of 1.12 nW from the EP of a guinea pig for up to 5 h, enabling a 2.4 GHz radio to transmit measurement of the EP every 40-360 s. With future optimization of electrode design, we envision using the biologic battery in the inner ear to power chemical and molecular sensors, or drug-delivery actuators for diagnosis and therapy of hearing loss and other disorders.

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