EPSRC transformative healthcare technologies: Symbiotic Intrabody Networks for Bioelectronic Therapeutics

Project: Research council

Project Details


Total awarded amount £374,998

We aim to create a platform of wirelessly networked therapeutic implants which are powered by harvesting energy from the body's own energy supply: glucose. The use of energy harvesting will allow for much smaller implants with much easier surgical implementation, and thus much wider use. The ability of multiple implants to reliably communicate with each other will allow for new types of personalised medical therapies. In particular, it will allow for tuning of the therapeutic interventions according to sensed information from across the body.

Across the world, societies are rapidly ageing, so a key challenge is to ensure healthy optimal lifespans for as many as possible. Drug therapies have been improving, but it can be difficult to optimally modulate or tune the body's function to the normal daily cycle. So, in recent years there has been a surge of interest in bioelectronic solutions. For example, SetPoint Medical just received FDA approval (Autumn 2020) for a vagal nerve implant to treat arthritis. Here in the UK, Galvani is hoping to achieve similar success with trials already underway.

Bioelectronics has many modes of operation - including pacemakers for heart, brain and body, sensory restoration (for the deaf and blind), and short-term healing applications such as supporting opioid withdrawal. The market is therefore very large, and expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades. In the first instance, we will target Cardiac Arrhythmias.

We have brought together a leading UK team of bioelectronic experts with knowledge in microelectronics, ultrasonic communication, micro-fuel cells, artificial intelligence, and medical device design to push this project forward. Furthermore, three of the team have direct experience in the medical technology industry, and we have separately been involved in multiple large clinical translation projects. We strongly believe we can achieve success in this high-risk, high-reward project as we have already created working pre-requisites for each of the components.

Bioelectronic implants have steadily been reducing in size. The Medtronic Micro cardiac pacemaker now has the diameter of a marker pen. However, further miniaturisation is difficult because implantable batteries need to be armoured. Further decreases in size will make battery capacity negligible given the minimum dimensions of the armour plate. Furthermore, existing implants act as independent entities and can only sense in their immediate vicinity. As such it is difficult, for example, to fully synchronise the left and right ventricle stimulation of the heart. Similarly synchronous stimulus of an internal organ, e.g. the liver or pancreas, according to clinical signs elsewhere in the body is currently very challenging, if not impossible.

UNDERPINNING INNOVATIONS: our proposal is based on two breakthrough capabilities that we have been developing in respective labs, and are only now becoming possible:

1. GLUCOSE ENERGY HARVESTING: We are now able to harvest sufficient energy to drive a cardiac pacemaker from glucose in the body's interstitial fluid. At the core of the harvester is a fuel cell that uses metallic-nanostructured catalysts with an architecture scalable to long term operation inside the body.

2. RELIABLE ULTRASONIC INTRABODY COMMUNICATIONS: We have developed a prototype ultrasound communication scheme with in-built error correction, which can, for the first time, allow for reliable communication between disperse implants. When optimised for use in intrabody networks, our system will allow for dispersed sensing and intelligence not currently possible.
Effective start/end date1/10/2130/09/22

Collaborative partners

  • University of Bath
  • Newcastle University (lead)
  • Imperial College London
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Oxford


  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

RCUK Research Areas

  • Electrical engineering
  • Medical and health interface
  • Bioelectronic Devices
  • Medical Instrumentation, Devices and Equipment


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