Device could one day replace complicated and sometimes painful medicine regimes of the seriously ill
June 26, 2002
By Jessica Rappaport, Tech Live
John Santini knows the pain of suffering from a chronic disease. He was diagnosed with lupus, an immune system disorder, when he was 12 years old. His illness prompted him to follow a career path that could one day help those who suffer from chronic disease. And, as "Tech Live" reports, his dream could be on its way to becoming a reality.
Santini's company, MicroChips, is developing a fingernail-size microchip that he hopes will someday replace injectable drugs and complicated medicine regimens. The microchip could be implanted under the skin to deliver drugs to a patient suffering from a chronic disease.
"The microchip delivery implant is a silicon substrate that has a number of little reservoirs in it. We fill this with drug. We seal those reservoirs and then we implant them in the body," explained Santini, the chief scientific officer and president of the Boston-based biotech company.
The drugs can be released into the bloodstream by applying a small voltage, by preprogramming the chips, or through a wireless telemetry method with the aid of a computer and software.
These chips are targeting a specific population of patients. Santini says that the microchip is for very potent drugs -- meaning that it won't be for someone who suffers from seasonal allergies.
"If more potent allergy medications come on the market, where the amount of material that you are giving is small, or if you're giving it in a very controlled way -- that's where the opportunities lie," he said.
For the moment the microchip is designed to manage pain and to treat certain cancers, some diseases that require hormone injections, and disorders of the central nervous system such as multiple sclerosis.
Relief from taking medication
For people such as Francesca Carollo, who suffers from MS, the device could mean an end to frustrating daily injections.
Carollo says there are only a few areas on her body where she is allowed to inject the drugs that relieve some of her symptoms. Her hands are weak from MS and it's hard for her to reach certain areas of her body. Carollo says she often feels wiped out after taking her medicine.
The chips would target drugs to specific areas of the body, reducing a lot of potential side effects.
Implanting something under the skin can deter some patients, but not Carollo. Nine years ago she had a pump implanted in her abdomen. The outline of the hockey puck-size pump is visible in her belly. The pump delivers muscle relaxants to help keep her body from going into spasms.
"I was kind of leery about having my spine cut open, so I was a little scared, but it was well worth it," she said.
Asked if she would implant a microchip like the one MicroChips is developing, she says she definitely would.
"I think most people after a couple of months, after a couple of weeks, would totally just forget about it, because it's doing its job," she said. "It's eliminating having to take a shot. And if it works, I think that's all they care about really."
There are other companies making similar techniques to target drug therapy.
Frank Martin is the principle scientist at iMEDD, which is developing a similar technique that uses nanometer-size channels under the skin.
"These [oral/injectable drug] side effects are related to the peak and are more severe the higher the peak. And then the drugs wash out of the bloodstream, beyond a therapeutic level," Martin said. "So you get this up and down, up and down, and it's not very good for the patients."
Santini says he thinks the chip will help improve the safety and efficacy of drug regimes and that it will be a significant benefit to the health care community.
"We expect to take this technology into human clinical trials in just
under two years," he said. "We expect the FDA approval process will probably
take between two and three years. So you can expect to have the first commercial
product on the market in four to five years from now."
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