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In the future, you'll take medicine without taking medicine

Scientists working at MIT have successfully tested a system to deliver medicine into a patient's body thought an implanted chip. This means no more filling prescriptions or remembering to take it at the right time.

Scientists working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have successfully tested a system to deliver medicine into a patient's body thought an implanted chip. This means that the patient doesn't have to worry about filling a prescription or remembering to take it at the right time, it's all done for them. A timer in the chip knows when to release the medicine or can even be set up to sense when the body needs a new dosage. 

In a study of patients with osteoporosis, researchers found that about 75 percent of patients were not taking their medication or taking it at the wrong time. I spoke with Bob Farra, president of a company called MicroChips, from a studio in Boston, along with MIT professor Bob Langer.

"We have a little tiny implant that can be just done by a simple procedure in a doctor's office," says Langer, "and then by remote control, what can happen is the chip can be triggered by a special radio frequency signal every single day, and out comes the drug, and the compliance rather than 25 percent of people continuing this is 100 percent."

Farra says you won't have to fill the implant very often. "We're working on a 365-dose implant," he says, "so the patient will receive daily dosing for one year, and in some therapies where you dose every other day, the implant will last for two years."

And the implant is located within the body. No external devices. It's implanted under the skin in the abdominal area," Parra says. "We had to develop sealing techniques to make sure no moisture comes in and takes away from drug's stability. We also had to develop the activation mechanism, given an electronic wireless signal, how to open that reservoir and release the contents into the body."

Would it work for something like insulin for diabetes patients? "Right now, the chip would have to be adjusted to make it useful for that, because insulin is not as potent a drug. That would require some engineering at this point to make it ready for insulin," says Langer.

Any time we talk about a wireless signal, the mind drifts to security issues. But the researchers say this isn't a major concern. "We have gone through extensive testing and design to make sure that no unauthorized individual can access the hardware. We also have specific serial numbers for each implant," Farra says.

"So the point is somebody would have to be able to A) know the serial number and B) know the frequency, so it would be almost impossible for there to be a problem," says Langer.

Right now, the system is built for osteoporosis patients but it has implications beyond that. "There are many other situations where one might want to use a microchip like this," Langer says, "for programmed delivery or for combination chemotherapy or someday maybe even smart delivery systems that can sense signals in the body and tell chips how much to deliver them, so we see this as the dawn of a new kind of way of thinking about medicine."

Langer and Parra say it will be about four years until you might be able to skip the pharmacy and just go get your annual implant.

Also on today's program, another edition of the Robot Roundup. This time around, we meet bots who are shaking hands with astronauts in space, scoring goals in hockey (that one's in Canada, naturally) and joining the army as special, very tough, mechanical spider spies. Yep, that's the future, folks. Get used to it.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.
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"so it would be almost impossible for there to be a problem"

yeah ... right ... how many times have we heard this ... just like everything else, if it's connected to the outside in any way it can probably be hacked. Then if this grumpy old man ticks off a teenager down the block, all the drugs might just myteriously release all at once and kill me.

No thanks.

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