For the first time, researchers power an implantable electronic device using an electrical potential — a natural battery — deep in the inner ear.
Deep in the inner ear of mammals is a natural battery — a chamber filled with ions that produces an electrical potential to drive neural signal.
The devices could monitor biological activity in the ears of people with hearing or balance impairments, or responses to therapies. Eventually, they might even deliver therapies themselves. The technology was first tested on guinea pigs. After the implantation, the guinea pigs responded normally to hearing tests, and the devices were able to wirelessly transmit data about the chemical conditions of the ear to an external receiver.
The ear converts a mechanical force — the vibration of the eardrum — into an electrochemical signal that can be processed by the brain; the biological battery is the source of that signal’s current. Located in the part of the ear called the cochlea, the battery chamber is divided by a membrane, some of whose cells are specialized to pump ions. An imbalance of potassium and sodium ions on opposite sides of the membrane, together with the particular arrangement of the pumps, creates an electrical voltage.
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