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Implanted Chip Delivers Drugs Without a Thought Implanted Chip Delivers Drugs Without a Thought

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Technology / TECHNOLOGY

Implanted Chip Delivers Drugs Without a Thought

photo of Maggie Fox
February 16, 2012

Researchers say they have made the first implantable chip that can deliver medicine for as long as a year and that several women tolerated it safely for up to four months. Not only did the subjects find the implant comfortable, but it appeared to deliver an osteoporosis drug effectively, the team told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

They think such a device could be programmed to deliver a precise dose daily, helping to avoid problems caused when people fail to take their drugs on time. It could also be controlled remotely, allowing doctors to change dosage.

“We see this as a new future for how doctors will administer drugs and how patients will receive their treatments,” Robert Farra of Massachusetts-based MicroCHIPS told a news conference. “Patients will be freed from having to remember to take their medication and don’t have to experience the pain of multiple injections.”

 

Patients often fail to take medicines correctly -- and the more complex and expensive the drug, the less likely they are to remember. It's a headache for doctors and insurers alike, who end up spending needless time and money to treat symptoms that could have been prevented had the patients taken their drugs.

Such a device is at least five years away from the market. The implant study involved just a few women and only covered a short time; years of Food and Drug Administration approval trials are still needed.

“I have seen many exciting achievements in medical technology, but I have to say this ranks as one of the most remarkable breakthroughs,” said the clearly excited Robert Langer, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the cofounders of the company.

The flash-stick-sized device was Langer’s brainchild; he and colleague Michael Cima spent 15 years developing it. Other such devices might be designed to detect the start of a heart attack and automatically deliver drugs to treat it, or to allow a doctor to remotely deliver drugs to a patient half a world away.

Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the team described how they studied seven women with the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. They delivered 20 days' worth of a prescription drug called Forteo, which helped rebuild bone and normally requires daily injections for two years.

The women said they did not find the implants uncomfortable and lab tests suggested the medication worked as it would have had it been injected. There were few side-effects, but sometimes a membrane formed around the device. The cost would be comparable to the $10,000 to $12,000 cost of a two-year course of Forteo, the researchers said.

“This trial demonstrates how a drug can be delivered through an implantable device that can be monitored and controlled remotely, providing new opportunities to improve treatment for patients and to realize the potential of telemedicine," Langer said in a statement.

The team compared the device to a pacemaker. Pumps exist that deliver doses of liquid insulin, but the researchers said this was the first solid-state device to deliver a drug. It uses nano-sized structures to channel and deliver the drug, and an electrical current to open the nano-channels.

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