Researchers trial microchip that administers drugs

2 min read

A wirelessly controlled microchip capable of releasing drugs into the body at any time has been tested on seven women with osteoporosis.

‘Patients will be freed from having to remember to take their medication and don’t have to experience the pain of multiple injections,’ said Robert Farra, president and chief operating officer of MicroCHIPS — the Massachusetts-based company behind the device.

Farra is a co-author of the study, along with colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard Medical School, OnDemand Therapeutics and Case Western Reserve University.

Unlike most drug delivery devices, which release small amounts of drug slowly over time, the microchip is said to release medication on command from an external wireless device. This controlled system gets medicine into the bloodstream quickly, similar to an injection.

‘Physicians will be able to seamlessly adjust their patients’ therapy using a computer or cell phone,’ said Farra.

According to a statement, the authors believe the microchip may be a more appealing and possibly cheaper alternative to the long-term use of prefilled daily injection pens.

Patients with severe osteoporosis often have to give themselves daily injections of medication that requires refrigeration. Aside from the burden of daily injections, older people may have arthritis or other problems that make injections physically difficult.

Moreover, since osteoporosis is a ‘silent’ disease — affected individuals don’t feel better or worse as their bone density decreases — many patients simply stop taking medication to avoid the hassle of daily injections.

The implant could help circumvent the high drop-off in compliance and improve the quality of life for osteoporosis patients. The device may also be useful for treating other chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, heart disease or even cancer.

Roughly the size of a pacemaker, the device holds daily doses of a drug inside tiny wells that open either on a pre-programmed schedule or via a wireless signal.

‘The drugs are in different wells. Each of these wells is covered by a nano-thin layer of gold, which protects the drug for years if needed and prevents it from being released,’ said Robert Langer, professor at MIT and co-author of the Science Translational Medicine paper.

Sending a wireless signal to the well causes the gold to dissolve, freeing medication into the bloodstream.

To test the device, the researchers implanted the microchip just below the waistline into seven women between the ages of 65 and 70. The procedure can reportedly be performed in a doctor’s surgery with local anaesthetic.

Tracking the women for 12 months, the team showed that the implant delivered the drug teriparatide as effectively as daily injections. Treatment improved bone formation and reduced the risk of bone fracture, as evidenced by the presence of biochemical markers signalling bone formation, bone mass and bone resorption.

The company hopes to make the device available for mainstream use in five years.