Scientists have developed a microchip that can be successfully implanted under the skin to control the release of drugs, ending the need for painful daily injections for osteoporosis sufferers.
The microchip technology, which has been in development for more than 15 years, was trialled in a small human study for the first time by U.S scientists. The chip takes 30 minutes to insert into the abdomen just below the skin, and is done under local anaesthetic.
The fully packaged microchip is no larger than a memory stick
It was tested on seven osteoporosis sufferers between the ages of 65 and 70 from Denmark. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes the bones to become weak and fragile and more inclined to break. The hormone teriparatide is often self-administered with injection pens by the patient to treat osteoporosis.
Scientists, reporting in Science Translational Medicine, said that the implant delivered the drug teriparatide just as effectively as the injection pens. Crucially, many said the device – the first of its kind – was so comfortable that they often forgot it was there, and there were no noted side effects.
The chip contains a series of tiny wells, each packed with a daily dose of teriparatide. The wells are sealed with a fine layer of titanium and platinum and pop open on a programmed schedule or in response to a wireless signal. The drug is then available for pick up in the capillaries.
Fully packaged, the device is about the same size as a heart pacemaker, and is made of biocompatible materials.
Microchips Inc. is now trying to scale up the system so that more doses can be included. Only 20 drug wells were used in the trialled microchips, but scientists believe it could potentiayly contain hundreds of wells.
One of the designers, Professor Robert Langer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said: "You could literally have a pharmacy on a chip.” Other illnesses that could be treated in this way include diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart disease.
The inclusion of wireless technology would allow doctors to remotely alter the amount of drug dispensed as necessary, and researchers believe that the chip will be popular with those who dislike injecting themselves or find it difficult to do so for other health reasons.
A marketable product is still at least five years away. However, when scientists do perfect the microchip technology, patients with private medical insurance could be some of the first to access the treatment- health insurance will cover licensed drugs not approved on the NHS.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012