(CNN) — Did you take your meds today? At the right time? All of them?
Following your doctor’s orders can be cumbersome, especially if you’re supposed to take more than one pill a day.
That’s why scientists are working to develop microchips that can be preloaded with medications and implanted in our bodies, programmed to administer drugs at a given time, interval and/or dose. A doctor would theoretically be able to adjust the dose, or stop the drug altogether, by remote control.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers Robert Langer and Michael Cima started working on this idea with John Santini in the 1990s. Langer and Cima are on the board of directors of MicroCHIPS, a company trying to make the idea a reality.
In a 2012 study, they implanted a chip under the skin below the waistlines of eight women with osteoporosis. Over four months the device delivered regular doses of an osteoporosis drug normally given by injection. The study showed this method was safe and effective.
Since then the device has improved considerably, says Robert Farra, MicroCHIPS president and chief operating officer. The current version is about the size of a Scrabble tile and can deliver more drugs than before.
The company is aiming to release its first product to the public in 2017, which will likely be a hormonal contraception device that can be turned on and off wirelessly and releases a consistent daily dose. It will have the ability to offer progestin and estrogen together, like a combination birth control pill.
The first version of this device will likely last five years, but it’s possible to create one that could remain in the body and effectively deliver drugs for up to 16 years.
“The MicroCHIPS implantable drug delivery device is the greatest advancement in delivering medicine since the first tablet pill was developed in 1876,” CEO Bradley Paddock says.
Another device is being developed for other chronic conditions, including multiple sclerosis. It may even lead to new therapies, Langer says, because the device protects unstable drugs.
The device could also transmit data to hospitals and doctors so “you could have permanent records of exactly what you took when.”
Further down the line, the chip could serve as a rescue device, releasing medications for heart attack, stroke or allergic reaction in at-risk patients.
By Elizabeth Landau