Rethinking Healthcare

No more injections: implantable microchip delivers drugs

No more injections: implantable microchip delivers drugs

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Pharmacy on a chip? In the first human tests of a wireless, drug-delivering chip, 7 women with osteoporosis reduced their risk of bone fracture as effectively as with daily injections.

A clinical trial composed of Danish women with the bone disease osteoporosis is the first to test a wirelessly controlled microchip that can release drugs into the body at any time.

Patients can release medication with the push of a remote-controlled button, ditching their daily injection pens.

These results represent the first successful test of such a device and could help usher in a new era of telemedicine – delivering health care over a distance, says coauthor Robert Langer of MIT. "You could literally have a pharmacy on a chip,” he adds. (Pictured, flash drive for scale.)

The implant would keep patients on their meds – especially because osteoporosis is a ‘silent’ disease and people don’t feel worse as their bone density decreases. "This avoids the compliance issue completely,” says coauthor Michael Cima of MIT, “and points to a future where you have fully automated drug regimens."

The tech could be ideal for treating conditions that require regular pulses of medication, including pain, infertility, multiple sclerosis, and perhaps even diabetes, LA Times reports. The tech also allows doctors to adjust medication using a computer or smartphone.

About 15 years ago, Langer and Cima created a device that holds daily doses of a drug inside tiny wells that pop open either on a pre-programmed schedule or via a wireless signal. But once implanted into animals, a fibrous collagen-based membrane would develop around the device.

In this trial, the team of academic and industry researchers – led by Robert Farra of MicroCHIPS , along with Langer and Cima – wanted to see if the membrane actually slowed down the absorption of the medication.

  1. They implanted the chip (pictured, right) just below the waistline of 7 women between the ages of 65 and 70. This half hour procedure was performed in a doctor’s office with local anesthetic.
  2. The women received daily doses of the bone-forming drug teriparatide, individually sealed in tiny reservoirs about the size of a pinprick. The reservoirs are capped with a thin layer of platinum and titanium that melts when a small electrical current is applied, releasing the drug inside.
  3. The devices were tracked for 12 months.

They showed how the drug was delivered as effectively as daily injections – even with the fibrous membrane around the device. The treatment improved bone formation and reduced the risk of bone fracture.

Massachusetts-based MicroCHIPS is currently developing new designs that have enough reservoirs for a year’s supply of doses. The company hopes to make the device available for mainstream use in 5 years.

The work was published in Science Translational Medicine yesterday. Via AAAS, MIT, and Nature.

Images: MicroCHIPS

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure