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MIT researchers build wireless 'pharmacy on a chip'

Programmable microchip could replace daily injections for cancer, osteoporosis and MS drugs

February 17, 2012 02:58 PM ET

Computerworld - Researchers at MIT have developed what they're hoping will be something of a pharmacy on a chip.

Scientists have developed a wirelessly controlled and programmable microchip that can be implanted into the human body to deliver medicine -- and it could replace daily drug injections, according to MIT.

"You could literally have a pharmacy on a chip," said MIT professor Robert Langer, who worked on the project with fellow MIT professor Michael Cima. "You can do remote control delivery, you can do pulsatile drug delivery, and you can deliver multiple drugs."

The university researchers worked with scientists at MicroCHIPS Inc., a medical product company based in Waltham, Mass.

The university reported that the wireless chips were tested delivering an osteoporosis drug called Teriparatide to seven women between the ages of 65 and 70. The test reportedly showed that the chips delivered dosages comparable to injections with no adverse side effects.

The chips were reportedly implanted in the patients in a doctor's office using a local anesthetic and left in the patients for four months.

According to MIT, the chips also could be used for treating patients fighting cancer and multiple sclerosis.

"Compliance is very important in a lot of drug regimens, and it can be very difficult to get patients to accept a drug regimen where they have to give themselves injections," Cima said in a written statement. "This avoids the compliance issue completely, and points to a future where you have fully automated drug regimens."

Nearly a year ago, researchers at the Polytechnique Montreal, a Canadian university, announced that they were using nanotechnology and a tiny remote-controlled magnetic sphere to deposit cancer-fighting drugs directly on a targeted area on an animal's liver.

And in June 2010, scientists at Rice University reported that they had added nanoechnology to an off-the-shelf digital camera to help doctors distinguish healthy cells from cancerous cells in the human body. Targeted nanoparticles deliver fluorescent dyes to cells and then the cancerous cells can be seen on the souped-up camera's LCD screen.

Back in 2009, Stanford University researchers announced that they had used nanotechnology and magnetics to create a biosensor designed to detect cancer in its early stages, making a cure more likely. University scientists reported that the sensor, which sits on a microchip, is 1,000 times more sensitive than cancer detectors used clinically today.

For the current wireless microchip research being done at MIT, scientists began working on the project in the mid-1990s.

covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter @sgaudin, on or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed Gaudin RSS. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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