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Implantable microchip can deliver meds, study finds

Feb. 15, 2012
Courtesy of Sci­ence Transla­t­ional Med­i­cine
and World Science staff

Os­te­o­por­orosis pa­tients could soon re­place their daily drug in­jec­tion re­gime with an im­planted mi­crochip that re­leases med­i­cine at the push of a remote-con­trolled but­ton—the first de­vice of its kind.

A clin­i­cal tri­al in­volv­ing a group of wom­en with os­te­o­por­oro­sis in Den­mark is the first to test a wire­lessly con­trolled mi­crochip that can re­lease drugs in­to the body any time. The tech­nol­o­gy could al­low doc­tors to ad­just their pa­tien­t’s med­ica­t­ion by com­put­er or smart­phone, sci­en­tists say.

Courtesy of MicroCHIPS Inc., Mass.


Pa­tients with se­vere os­te­o­por­oro­sis cur­rently have to give them­selves daily in­jec­tions, some­times for up to two years. That un­pleas­ant­ness leads some dis­heart­ened pa­tients to skip on treat­ments. This is es­pe­cially true be­cause the dis­ease it­self does­n’t feel bad un­til thinned-out bone struc­ture, the mal­a­dy’s char­ac­ter­is­tic fea­ture, leads to a frac­ture.

The im­plant could help stop pa­tients from giv­ing up on their treat­ment and dra­mat­ic­ally im­prove life for mil­lions, its de­vel­op­ers say. De­signed by a team of ac­a­dem­ic and in­dus­try sci­en­tists, it holds daily doses of a drug in­side ti­ny wells that pop open ei­ther on a pre-programmed sched­ule or via a wire­less sig­nal. 

An in­i­tial con­cern of sci­en­tists was that in an­i­mal tests, a fi­brous collagen-based mem­brane tended to de­vel­op around the im­planted de­vice. The re­search­ers wor­ried this fi­brous tis­sue might slow down the ab­sorp­tion of med­ica­t­ion. In the hu­man tri­al, the tis­sue did form, but it did­n’t in­ter­fere enough to make the treat­ment less ef­fec­tive than daily in­jec­tions, the group said.

The team, which in­clud­ed re­search­ers from Har­vard Med­i­cal School, im­planted the pacemaker-sized mi­crochip just be­low the waist­line in­to sev­en wom­en be­tween the ages of 65 and 70. The pro­ce­dure can be per­formed in a doc­tor’s of­fice with lo­cal an­es­thet­ic.

Track­ing the wom­en for a year, the re­search­ers al­so found that treat­ment im­proved bone forma­t­ion and re­duced the risk of bone frac­ture, as judged by blood mark­ers sig­naling bone forma­t­ion, bone mass and oth­er fac­tors. The chip was re­moved from par­ti­ci­pants at the end of the treat­ment.

The find­ings are pub­lished in the Feb. 15 is­sue of the jour­nal Sci­ence Transla­t­ional Med­i­cine.


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Osteoporosis patients could soon replace their daily drug injection regime with an implanted microchip that releases medicine at the push of a remote-controlled button—the first device of its kind. A clinical trial involving a group of women with osteoporosis in Denmark is the first to test a wirelessly controlled microchip capable of releasing drugs into the body any time. The technology could allow doctors to adjust their patient’s medication by computer or smartphone, scientists say. Patients with severe osteoporosis currently have to give themselves daily injections, sometimes for up to two years. That unpleasantness leads some disheartened patients to skip on treatments. This is especially true because the disease itself doesn’t feel bad until thinned-out bone structure, the malady’s characteristic feature, leads to a fracture. The implant could help stop patients from giving up on their treatment and dramatically improve life for millions, its developers say. Designed by a team of academic and industry scientists, it holds daily doses of a drug inside tiny wells that pop open either on a pre-programmed schedule or via a wireless signal. An initial concern of scientists was that in animal tests, a fibrous collagen-based membrane tended to develop around the implanted device. The researchers worried this fibrous tissue might slow down the absorption of medication. In the human trial, the tissue did form, but it didn’t interfere enough to make the treatment less effective than daily injections, the group said. The team, which included researchers from Harvard Medical School, implanted the pacemaker-sized microchip just below the waistline into seven women between the ages of 65 and 70. The procedure can be performed in a doctor’s office with local anesthetic. Tracking the women for a year, the researchers also found that treatment improved bone formation and reduced the risk of bone fracture, as evidenced by the presence of biochemical markers signaling bone formation, bone mass and other factors. The chip was removed from participants at the end of the treatment. The findings are published in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.