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Baby powder powers new batteries

A breakthrough in battery technology means that talcum powder could soon have a more important role as a power source for modern medicines than protecing against nappy rash.

In yet another odd twist of modern science, it has been found that the raw ingredients of talcum powder can be used to make high tech batteries, and in the process saving patients lives and the NHS millions of pounds.

It’s a discovery that has seen a substance that for years has been used to dust babies bottoms finding a new role powering a new range of medical and beauty products that use electricity to improve their performance.

“I know it sounds odd,” said Raghu Das, head of IDTechEx, a firm of analysts which monitors the world of future electronics, “but the minerals in the substance, Manganese Dioxide and Zinc, make very good batteries.

“It’s been known for a while now that if you pass an electrical current over the skin that the electricity increases the skins’ ability to absorb materials like skin care products and medicine and deliver it right to where it needs to go. Electricity increases the ability of the skin to absorb chemicals by ten times,” said Das.

The  technique, used for a number of years by the medical sector and known as ‘iontophoresis’, has until now needed a small box the size of a mobile phone to both create an electrical current and monitor the amount of medicine being absorbed by the skin.

The drawback of the system in the past is that patients have had to visit a doctor to have the process carried out.

smoothing out the wrinkles in power delivery

With the advent of the talcum powder battery this is no longer necessary because the batteries can be literally printed onto patches that are then stuck onto the surface of the skin.

A process that the beauty industry has been using for the past two years, with Estee Lauder, the cosmetics giant, developing a product called Perfectionist which can remove skin wrinkles by pumping skin cream into a particular area

“This is going to be a very big market. The problem for the health care sector is that if they were to develop treatments like this using conventional technologies like coin cell batteries that any device would have to be rigid and the batteries use lithium which is not good for the environment,” said Gary Johnson, CEO of Bluespark Technologies, a US company developing  the system for a number of clients.

The advantage of the  talcum powder batteries is that they can be built into patches that can be stuck onto the skin and, according to the manufacturers, can even be eaten.

The advent of the talcum powder batteries also means that for the first time people can be given patches rather than pills.

“You find that there are some people who are needle phobic, there are some drugs that don’t work too well orally so it promises a lot there,” said Johnson, “but the real bonus is that these patches mean that you don’t forget to take your pills and that is a real breakthrough because missing a pill can  be life threatening or can render a treatment ineffective.”

In the US missed doses of medicine are estimated to cause over 125,000 deaths a year and the cost to the health services runs into billions of dollars due to immunity developed to pills, and the extra strain on resources caused by dealing with the consequences of forgotten medication.

According to a spokeswoman for the Department of Health concern over the issue in the UK has led to the department commissioning research into the problem which is due to be published later this year.