UG/ UMCG and TU Delft join forces for child-friendly button cell battery

Cardiothoracic surgeon Tjark Ebels of the UMCG and ENT doctor Freek Dikkers have regularly seen them come through; children who have swallowed a button cell battery. The familiar 2 cm diameter button cell battery is found in the LED candles we all know from Christmas, in your car key, and in that cute cuddly toy with music. Every parent knows that swallowing a button cell battery can be dangerous for a child, but that the consequences could be so severe is less well known.

Every year, around 2,000 children worldwide die after swallowing a button cell battery. So did American Reese Hamsmith, who would have turned four this month, but died when she was 18 months old after swallowing a button cell battery. Her mother is the initiator of the yearly Button Battery Awareness Day on 12 June, which aims to make parents aware of the dangers of the button cell battery for small children, but above all to encourage laws and regulations regarding safe batteries. Incidentally not without success, as Reese’s Law was recently signed by the Biden administration in August 2022.

Collaboration between UG/ UMCG and TU Delft

Ebels and Dikkers felt the same need and joined forces with TU Delft. Together with Professor Marnix Wagenmakers and Research Technician Frans Ooms they spent the past few years researching the development of a child-friendly button cell battery. The research resulted in a patent application from the UG/ UMCG and TU Delft.

Patent for fused button cell battery

Ebels: “When the battery is swallowed, the electrical charge generated by the battery will immediately begin to dissolve tissue, leaving a child with permanent damage or, in the worst case, death. In collaboration with TU Delft, we have developed a fused button cell battery. This fuse automatically interrupts the flow of the button cell battery within minutes after ingestion. This power interruption does not only prevent serious injury or death, but also tissue damage which is less severe. The good thing is that the Fused Button Battery system is compatible with all standard button cell battery manufacturing processes. Now that there is a patent application, a team of professionals should actually get to work on developing the button battery so that the child-friendly button battery will become the standard. Obviously, that is our mission.”

Personal motivation

The same urgency is felt by Dikkers: “More than once, Tjark and I have stood together at the operating table with a child who had swallowed a button cell battery. These are operations where we try to save what can be saved. My grandson is also four and that is an extra motivation for me to make a strong case for this.”

Swallowed a button battery after all? Honey and see a doctor immediately!

The doctors do have a piece of advice for parents: “Ironically, the danger comes from used or dead batteries that parents collect with good intentions and take to the recycling bin every once in a while. Don’t leave empty batteries lying around, but take them away immediately or collect them somewhere your child really can’t reach. And if that does happen: have your child eat honey. Fortunately, almost everyone has this in their pantry. And consult a doctor as soon as possible. If you get there in time, we can help your child properly and limit the damage.”

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