Button batteries are a major threat to children, especially those under the age of 6. More than 3,000 ingestions are reported each year in the United States alone.
Five and a half years ago, Emmett Rauch was one of those cases.
"We were living minute-by-minute and we weren't even sure he would survive," said his mom, Karla Rauch.
Since then, Emmett has undergone 66 surgeries, an 18-month hospital stay and he still receives most of his nutrition through a tube inserted through his abdomen that delivers nutrition directly to his stomach -- all because he swallowed a button battery. The battery, when combined with saliva, lets off a charge that can eat through tissue, just like it did to him.
It's stories like the Rauchs' that prompted a group of engineers and researchers in Boston from the Brigham and Women's Hospital, along with MIT, to develop a remarkable solution.
"We developed a pressure-sensitive coating that would fully insulate the battery and waterproof it. So, if you accidentally swallow it, the force of the esophagus is not strong enough to convert it into a conductor. So it remains as an insulator and is waterproofed," said Dr. Jeff Karp. "But when you put it into a device, the force from the spring pushes on the coating and converts it into an efficient conductor and it works just as a normal battery would."
They call it quantum tunneling composite and have even tested the prototype on pig models.
"We've exposed it to stomach acid for 48 hours and we had no response whatsoever," said Karp.
A button battery was inside of Emmett for only two days and managed to burn two holes in his esophagus. For the Rauch family, this simple coating seems to be a no-brainer.
"I just think of all the lives that will be saved and all the suffering that will be saved by just having something simple as this coating on a button battery," said Karla.
With more than 3 billion button batteries produced around the world every year, the researchers know this could be disruptive to the industry, "because it adds another step," said Karp.
But with stories like Emmett's rallying behind this simple solution that will only add pennies to the process, Karla Rauch hopes manufacturers will take notice.
"This is a real issue and happens to real families all over the world," she said.
The group of engineers is looking for investments to move their idea forward. They're hoping to bring this coating to market and have it adopted across the world within one-and-a-half to two years.
For more information about the dangers of button batteries, visit: http://emmettsfight.com/