Electronic implants could give medication at the touch of a button, scientists say 


Could implants that deliver drugs by app replace daily pills? Health revolution on horizon as electronic implants could give medication at the touch of a button, scientists say

  • Remote-controlled medications could be the way forward for delivering drugs
  • Scientists say this is possible with a new material that has a polymer surface
  • An implant would make it possible to deliver drugs to a precise part of the body 

Electronic implants could replace daily pills in the future and deliver drugs at the touch of a button.

Scientists have taken a step towards ‘remote-controlled’ medications by inventing a material which uses electrical signals to release molecules.

It could be used to make futuristic implants which produce doses of a drug at regular intervals so patients no longer need to remember to take their pills.

Electronic implants could replace daily pills in the future and deliver drugs at the touch of a button, scientists say. This comes as evidence shows almost half of people fail to take their medication correctly (STOCK)

Evidence suggests around 50 per cent of people fail to take the medications they are prescribed correctly – risking their health because they are unwilling or unable to follow the dosage schedule.

An implant would be more targeted than a pill, delivering a drug to one precise part of the body. With tablets, other parts of the body can be affected by the drug which can lead to unpleasant side effects.

Researchers say a prototype could be available within a year. It could be smaller than a centimetre across and operated using a smartphone app.

The new material is a polymer surface which, triggered by a simple electrical pulse, switches from holding to releasing molecules.

Gustav Ferrand-Drake del Castillo, lead author of a study on the material, from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, said: ‘You can imagine a doctor, or a computer programme, measuring the need for a new dose of medicine in a patient, and a remote-controlled signal activating the release of the drug from the implant located in the very tissue or organ where it’s needed.’

The implant only requires a small amount of power, as the polymer on the surface of the electrode is very thin, so can react to a tiny electrochemical pulse. 

An implant would be more targeted than a pill, delivering a drug to one precise part of the body. Researchers say a prototype could be available within a year, smaller than a centimetre  and operated using a smartphone app (STOCK)

An implant would be more targeted than a pill, delivering a drug to one precise part of the body. Researchers say a prototype could be available within a year, smaller than a centimetre  and operated using a smartphone app (STOCK)

Researchers also say it can cope with changes in acidity, such as those found in the digestive system, if it were used there.

Many researchers are working on similar implantable drug delivery devices, which are hoped to work particularly well to target pain in specific areas, helping people with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Mr Ferrand-Drake del Castillo said: ‘Being able to control the release and uptake of proteins in the body, with minimal surgical interventions and injections is a unique and useful property.’

The study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, comes as a team at Stanford University are working on fingertip-sized robots which can crawl, spin and swim to enter narrow spaces in the body to dispense medicines.

Scientists have also looked at releasing drugs slowly through microchips, which can be controlled remotely by a doctor, and used for osteoporosis.

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