Osteoporosis drugs delivered wirelessly

Implanted microchip that releases medications on command tested in people

VANCOUVER — An implanted microchip that releases medication on command from wireless signals has been demonstrated in people for the first time using a drug for osteoporosis.

A microchip (right) about the size of a memory stick (left) can release drugs in implanted patients through wireless control, a new study finds. Courtesy of MicroCHIPS Inc.

This tiny device, implanted under the skin, could be useful in treating many diseases that require taking medication regularly, scientists reported February 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“This opens up profound possibilities for improving the treatment of patients and the potential of telemedicine,” said Robert Farra, president of MicroCHIPS Inc., the company that funded and conducted part of the study. A paper describing the results was also published online February 16 in Science Translational Medicine by collaborators from MicroCHIPS, MIT, Harvard and Case Western Reserve University.

The idea behind a microchip that could release chemicals in the body at precise times was first developed by MIT scientists over a decade ago. But researchers needed to make sure that medications were well stored in the device. Also, the immune system tends to create a barrier of collagen around implanted devices, which could make it difficult for the drug to make it into the bloodstream.

In the new study, a device with individual doses of the drug teriparatide sealed inside was implanted under the waistline in eight women with osteoporosis. When the device’s microprocessor receives a wireless signal, a current runs through the microchip, breaking open the metal layers that contain a single dose of the drug.

About two months after the device was implanted — and after the immune system’s protective barrier had formed — wireless signals programmed the device to release daily doses of teriparatide. The drug, which increases bone mass, is usually given by injection.

Based on blood tests, the doses from the device appeared to bump up levels of a molecule called P1NP, which indicates bone building — evidence that teriparatide released from the microchip works as it should.

Still, there are technical limitations with this device. John T. Watson, a bioengineering researcher at the University of California, San Diego, said that the consistency of the devices is a concern. One device didn’t release any medication in one of the original patients.

No side effects appeared in any of the study participants, Farra said. What’s more, many patients said they weren’t bothered by the device or had, in fact, forgotten about it.

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