Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 17, 2012

Imagine This: No More Worrying about When to Take Medication, Your Body Does it All



It sounds too good to be true. Instead of looking at your watch to see when it’s time to take your next dose of medicine, what if the medication simply released itself inside you when it was time?

It’s still about four years away but researchers have announced that you’ll be able to go to your doctor, “and, after a brief surgical procedure, walk away with a microchip under (your) skin that delivers medication in precisely timed and measured doses,” according to a story by Anne Harding at cnn.com.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced Thursday that they have successfully finalized the first trial of a drug-releasing microchip in humans, according to Harding.

 Some of the early hope for this drug delivery system is that doctors might be able to program dose changes remotely, or “time them for when the patient is sleeping to minimize side effects,” Lauran Neergaard writes at The Huffington Post.

Drugs that could be taken this in way include chemotherapy, fertility hormones, and vaccines, the researchers say, Harding writes.

Those who take injectable drugs for multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid will benefit the most, initially, according to the researchers. The MIT study involved a small group of women in Denmark with osteoporosis, according to a story by Julie Steenhuysen at Reuters.

The implantable device “has a wireless receiver that signals the microchip to release the drug,” Steenhuysen writes. In the study, the devices released 94 percent of the doses exactly as planned, according to Harding.

"It's almost like 'Star Trek,' but now it's coming to life," study coauthor Robert Langer, Jr., Sc.D., an institute professor at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Harding. 

Harding reports in her story that Langer, a chemical engineer, developed “the idea for the drug-delivery device about 15 years ago, while watching a TV show on how microchips are made in the computer industry.” He and his colleagues at MIT then went to work on the idea in 1990s, and finally “published the first paper on their research in 1999.”

That same year, Harding writes, “Langer co-founded a privately held company, MicroCHIPS, Inc., to license the technology from MIT and commercialize the device.”

The results were published on the website of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The pacemaker-sized microchip devices, which were implanted near the waistline of seven 60-something women in Denmark, worked as intended, releasing up to 19 daily doses of an osteoporosis drug that ordinarily requires injections. The implants proved safe, and tests revealed that they delivered the medication as effectively as once-a-day shots.

Although they’re very important, patient comfort and convenience aren't the only potential benefits of microchips, Robert Farra, the president and CEO of MicroCHIPS, told Harding.  It’s the best way yet to ensure that people receive their medications exactly as prescribed, she writes. No more skipped or inconsistent doses! And, hopefully, better healing.


Deborah DiSesa Hirsch is an award-winning health and technology writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and IBM in her 20-year career. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny




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