Needle phobia Implant no bigger than a memory stick delivers drug doses directly into the blood without need for injections

A wireless-operated microchip that delivers drugs to the bloodstream has been successfully tested on patients for the first time.

Researchers believe the wafer-thin, 1.3 centimetre-long device could be commercially available and taking the place of regular injections in five years.

An early version of the implant was used to deliver medication to seven women aged 65 to 70, who suffer from the brittle bone disease osteoporosis.

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

The programmable device, inserted just below the waistline, stored 20 doses of the drug Teriparatide in pinprick-size reservoirs.

A computer wirelessly linked to the implant ensured the drug was released from each reservoir at the right time.

Follow up tests showed that it was just as effective as daily injections.

Future chips could contain a range of different drugs and could be be operated from further away, ushering in a new era of 'telemedicine', according to the researchers.

Microchips graphic 1

Professor Robert Langer, one of the implant's designers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, said: 'You could literally have a pharmacy on a chip.

'You can do remote control deliver… and you can deliver multiple drugs.'

The scientists have set up a company, MicroCHIPS Inc, to develop the technology.

Details of the proof-of-concept trial results were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada.

They were also reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Microchips graphic 2

The researchers expect a commercial version of the device to be available in around five years.

Compliance is a major problem with self-administered injections, especially in older populations.

The inconvenience or physical difficulty involved, or basic fear of the needle, may mean that patients miss essential treatment.

Dr Robert Farra, president of MicroCHIPS, said: 'These data validate the microchip approach to multi-year drug delivery without the need for frequent injections.

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 can improve the management of many chronic diseases like osteoporosis, where adherence to therapy is a significant problem.

'We look forward to making further
progress to advance our first device toward regulatory approvals, as
well as developing a range of products for use in important disease
areas such as oesteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis,
cancer and chronic pain.'

The
prototype chip is half a centimetre wide and half a millimetre thick.
It can be inserted in a GP's surgery using local anaesthetic.

Each
of the drug storage wells is sealed by layer of platinum and titanium
that melts when a small current is applied, releasing its contents.

MicroCHIPS is now working on new implants that carry hundreds of doses.

Drugs can be delivered according to a pre-programmed schedule, or at the press of a button.

The
company has also developed a sensor that monitors glucose levels and
which, incorporated into the chips, could adapt drug treatments to a
patient's condition.

The
clinical trial began in Denmark in January last year. After being
inserted under the skin of patients, the chips were allowed to remain in
place for four months.

Patients told doctors they often forgot the implants were there.
Despite a fibrous membrane forming round the implanted device, this did not impair its operation, said the researchers.