Kaner Research featured in U Magazine

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Research of Professor Richard Kaner and postdoc Maher El-Kady featured in “The Cutting Edge” section of the U Magazine

U Magazine is a publication of the UCLA Health and David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The article entitled “Implantable medical device draws energy directly from human body” appeared in the fall issue of the magazine, also available as a printable copy here.

Richard Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and materials science and engineering at UCLA, and postdoc Dr. Maher El-Kady are part of a team to develop new bio-friendly protein-based supercapacitors that are harmless to biological systems, offering hope for heart patients. 

Kaner ElKady 2017

Postdoc Dr. Maher El-Kady and Professor Richard Kaner

From U Magazine

Implantable Medical Device Draws Energy Directly from Human Body

Supercapacitor Kaner ElKady

The supercapacitor invented by researchers from UCLA and the University of Connecticut could lead to pacemakers and other implantable medical devices that last a lifetime. Image: Dr. Maher El-Kady/UCLA and Dr. Islam Mosa/University of Connecticut.

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Connecticut have designed a biofriendly energy-storage system called a biological supercapacitor, which operates using charged particles, or ions, from fluids in the human body. The device is harmless to the body’s biological systems, and it could lead to longer-lasting cardiac pacemakers and other implantable medical devices.

Pacemakers — which help regulate abnormal heart rhythms — and other implantable devices have saved countless lives. But they’re powered by traditional batteries that eventually run out of power and must be replaced, meaning another painful surgery and the accompanying risk of infection. In addition, batteries contain toxic materials that could endanger the patient if they leak. The researchers propose storing energy in those devices without a battery.

The supercapacitor researchers invented charges using electrolytes from biological fluids like blood serum and urine, and it would work with another device called an energy harvester, which converts heat and motion from the human body into electricity — in much the same way that self-winding watches are powered by the wearer’s body movements. That electricity is then captured by the supercapacitor. “Combining energy harvesters with supercapacitors can provide endless power for lifelong implantable devices that may never need to be replaced,” says Maher El-Kady, PhD, postdoctoral researcher in the lab of team leader Richard Kaner, PhD, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and of materials science and engineering.

Modern pacemakers typically are about 6-to-8 millimeters thick and about the same diameter as a 50-cent coin; about half of that space is usually occupied by the battery. The supercapacitor developed by Dr. Kaner and his team is only 1 micrometer thick — much smaller than the thickness of a human hair — meaning that it could improve implantable devices’ energy efficiency. It also can maintain its performance for a long time, bend and twist inside the body without any mechanical damage and store more charge than the energy lithium film batteries of comparable size that are currently used in pacemakers.

The new biosupercapacitor comprises a carbon nanomaterial called graphene layered with modified human proteins as an electrode, a conductor through which electricity from the energy harvester can enter or leave. The new platform could also eventually be used to develop next-generation implantable devices to speed up bone growth, promote healing or stimulate the brain, says Dr. Kaner, who is a member of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute. Although supercapacitors have not yet been widely used in medical devices, the study shows they may be viable for that purpose.

“Ultrathin Graphene-Protein Supercapacitors for Miniaturized Bioelectronics,” Advanced Energy Materials, May 9, 2017


Professor Kaner’s graduate and postdoctoral work centered on discovering and developing different aspects of conducting polymers, graphite, and other solid-state phenomena. As such, the research in the Kaner lab spans a range of topics within a materials science and inorganic chemistry focus. Current active research topics include graphene, energy storage, superhard materials, water filtration and purification, and conducting polymers. 

To learn more about Kaner’s research, visit his group’s website.

Many thanks to Dr. Maher El-Kady for writing this article.