Scientists have developed a grape-sized, Bluetooth implant that can be remotely controlled to deliver scheduled doses of medication.
The research paves the way for people with chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes and heart disease to one day forego the daily regimen of pills.
Researchers from Houston Methodist Hospital in the US successfully delivered continuous, predetermined dosages of medications using a nanochannel delivery system (nDS) that they remotely controlled using Bluetooth technology.
The nDS device provides controlled release of drugs without the use of pumps, valves or a power supply for possibly up to year without a refill for some patients. The research will be tested in space next year.
The study, published in the journal Lab on a Chip, shows that the implant can be used for long-term delivery of drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure.
These medications that are often administered at specific times of the day or at varying dosages based on patient needs, researchers said.
"We see this universal drug implant as part of the future of health care innovation," said Alessandro Grattoni, from Houston Methodist Research Institute.
"Some chronic disease drugs have the greatest benefit of delivery during overnight hours when it's inconvenient for patients to take oral medication," Grattoni said.
"This device could vastly improve their disease management and prevent them from missing doses, simply with a medical professional overseeing their treatment remotely," he said.
Researchers have worked on implantable nanochannel delivery systems to regulate the delivery of a variety of therapies for medical issues ranging from HIV-prevention to cancer.
As basic research progresses with the remote-controlled device, the Houston Methodist technology is planned for extreme remote communication testing on the International Space Station in 2020.
The team hopes that one day the system will be widely available to clinicians to treat patients remotely via telemedicine.
This could provide both an improvement in the patients' quality of life and a reduction of cost to the health care system.
The battery-powered implant contains a microchip that is Bluetooth enabled and relies on wireless communication.
To prove the technology worked as planned, the microchip was programmed for three different drug release settings -- standard decreased and increased.
With each setting, a specific voltage was applied to a silicon nanochannel within the implant to control drug release.
Current drug delivery devices, such as pain or insulin implants, rely on pumping mechanisms or external ports and typically need refills every couple of months.
The new device is implanted under the skin and uses a nanofluidic membrane made with similar technology used in the silicon semiconductor industry.
The drug dosage and schedule can be tailored to each patient, and the implant delivers the drugs for many months, even a year before refills are needed.