In a Small Study, Patients Preferred Microchip Over Daily Injections, and Most Had No Unwanted Side Effects
By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
Feb. 16, 2012 -- An experimental, implanted drug-delivery microchip that releases medication on command from an external wireless control could one day free patients from daily injections and improve treatment compliance.
Results from the first human study of the programmable microchip were reported Thursday in Vancouver at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- 15 years after researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) first came up with the idea for the device.
If future research is promising, the technology could be used to treat a wide range of conditions that require frequent or daily injections, says Robert Farra, the study's author and chief operating officer of the company developing the drug-delivery device, MicroCHIPS Inc.
"This is the first successful human study of an implantable, wireless microchip that provides 100% treatment compliance and frees patients from the burden of managing their disease on a daily basis," Farra tells WebMD.
Drug-Delivery Chip Preferred Over Daily Shots
The study, conducted by MicroCHIPS and MIT researchers, originally included eight women in Denmark with severe osteoporosis who had been taking daily injections of the bone-building drug Forteo.
During a 30-minute procedure under local anesthetic, doctors implanted the small devices under the women's skin below their beltlines. Each device contained 20 doses of the drug sealed in tiny reservoirs on a specially designed microchip.
Immediately after implantation it became evident that the device was not working in one patient, and it was removed.
An analysis of the remaining seven patients confirmed that the microchip delivered the osteoporosis drug in comparable doses to daily injections with no unwanted side effects.
The women reported that they could not feel the devices and expressed a preference for the implanted microchip over daily injections for future treatment.
Farra says his company is now working on a microchip that can deliver a drug for a year or even longer.
If these trials are successful, the devices could be available for clinical use within four years, he says.
Taking Patient Adherence Out of the Equation
MIT professor of engineering Michael J. Cima, PhD, originally developed the idea for a programmable drug-delivery microchip more than a decade ago, along with colleague Robert Langer, ScD.
Cima says the technology could potentially be useful for delivering any potent drug or even multiple drugs, with the benefit of improving patient compliance.
"Patient compliance is a big issue, especially when we are asking patients to give themselves daily injections of a drug," he tells WebMD. "This could take patient compliance out of the equation."
And because the devices can be controlled remotely, physicians and patients can change dosing as needed.
"You could literally have a pharmacy on a chip," Langer said in a news release.
'Many Years, Hurdles Remain'
University of California, San Diego professor of bioengineering John T. Watson, PhD, calls the 20-dose trial an important first step in showing that a programmable drug-delivery microchip is possible.
But he tells WebMD that many years and hurdles remain before the technology reaches the clinic.
In an editorial published with the study today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, Watson writes that although the road may be long and winding, "a versatile, implantable device that exploits the microchip approach for controlled drug delivery will be worth the wait for patients with chronic diseases."
The study was funded and overseen by MicroCHIPS Inc.
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