Drug-Releasing Microchip Passes First Test in Humans

February 16, 2012

The study participants were reportedly untroubled by the device. “They found the implants pretty much acceptable,” Farra says. “They could not feel the device once it was implanted, and they all indicated they would be willing to repeat the procedure.”

The fact that several of the women said they forgot about the implant once their incision healed is a “good sign,” says John T. Watson, Ph.D., a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego. Watson adds, however, that the microchip system may not be for everyone.

The quality of life of people who take injectable medications “varies very broadly,” says Watson, who coauthored an editorial accompanying the study. “Some people say ‘I just don’t want an incision’—so they could opt out easily and elect another approach. On the other hand, there would be some people who would say ‘I want this’ because [they] want it to be forgettable, sort of like a pacemaker.”

More research and fine-tuning will be needed before the device can even be tested in full-fledged clinical trials, Watson says. The researchers need to establish that it’s durable and reliable, for instance.

Langer and his colleagues say their implants could be used for brief stretches of 30 to 90 days (to administer pain medication after an injury, say), or for periods of up to a year. “We think 365 doses is very manageable with the design that we’re working on,” says Farra, noting that MicroCHIPS is currently developing a one-year Forteo implant.

S. Louis Bridges, M.D., the director of clinical immunology and rheumatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in Alabama, says microchip devices could be a boon for people—such as rheumatoid arthritis patients—who require regular injections or intravenous infusions.

“Patients tend to do OK, but there are some that absolutely hate [injections],” Bridges says. Some patients complain that the medicine burns, and some experience so-called injection site reactions in which the surrounding skin becomes red and swollen, he explains.

Patient comfort and convenience aren’t the only potential benefits of microchips, Farra says. The automatic dosing ensures that people receive the medication exactly as prescribed, so doctors and patients don’t have to worry about skipped or inconsistent doses, he says.

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