Chip that could end daily jabs for osteoporosis: Implant no bigger than memory stick delivers drug doses directly into blood

Scientists have invented an electronic chip that could put an end to painful daily injections for osteoporosis sufferers.

The device, slipped under the skin, releases daily doses of the bone-building drug teriparatide.

In trials on elderly women, it worked just as well as regular injections of the medicine.


Size comparison: The MicroCHIPS wireless drug-delivery device, right, which is placed in the body, is pictured next to a conventional computer memory stick

Size comparison: The MicroCHIPS wireless drug-delivery device, right, which is placed in the body, is pictured next to a conventional computer memory stick

Crucially, many said the device – the first of its kind – was so comfortable that they often forgot it was there.

The chip can be adapted to dispense
other medicines and it is hoped it will be popular with those who
dislike injecting themselves, or find it difficult to do so due to
arthritis. It could also ensure better treatment.

Although drugs such as teriparatide –
also known as Forsteo – work well, the lack of any outward sign that
they are improving health means that up to three-quarters of
osteoporosis patients stop taking them.


Microchips graphic 1

With the condition affecting 3million
Britons, the innovation could have a dramatic impact on quality of life,
the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual
conference in Vancouver, Canada, heard.

The device’s co-inventor, Robert
Langer, one of the world’s top scientists, said: ‘Patients are freed
from the daily reminder, or burden, of disease, by eliminating the need
for regular injections.’

The chip contains a series of tiny
wells, each packed with a daily dose of teriparatide. The drug is so
potent, that a day’s supply is no bigger than a pin head. The wells,
which are sealed with an ultra-fine layer of titanium and platinum, pop
open either on a programmed schedule or in response to a wireless
signal.


Microchips graphic 2

Clear potential: MicroCHIPS president Robert Farra says the wireless device is fully programmable and can deliver the right drugs dosage even if patients forget

Clear potential: MicroCHIPS president Robert Farra says the wireless device is fully programmable and can deliver the right drugs dosage even if patients forget

This rapidly releases the drug into the bloodstream.

The chip is housed in a casing which
also contains a battery, as well as the electronics needed for a
wireless signal and the control of drug release. The whole device is
about two inches in height.

The chip, which is about five years
from the market, takes 30 minutes to insert into the abdomen, just below
the skin. The operation is done under local anaesthetic and patients
can walk home afterwards.

Results of a trial on eight women,
published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, show chips
loaded with 20 days’ supply of treatment worked well in all but one
case. Scientists from MicroCHIPS, the U.S. firm commercialising the
device, are working on a chip that carries and dispenses hundreds of
doses.

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.

Professor Langer, whose other
achievements range from growing an ear on the back of a mouse to
creating a spray that keeps frizzy hair at bay, said: ‘You could
literally have a pharmacy on a chip.’

Julia Thomson, of the National
Osteoporosis Society, said that swapping daily jabs for an implant would
make it easier for patients to take their drug.