Implant could revolutionise daily pill delivery

Most elderly people are on daily pills and remembering to take this medication can be a challenge. Now, scientists are exploring the idea of remote-controlled delivery of key drugs via an implant, which could be more targeted to specific parts of the body.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have created a material that uses electrical signals to release molecules. It could be game changing for the way medications are administered, ensuring doses are never skipped and are given at regular intervals.

It’s estimated around 50 per cent of people fail to take their medications correctly. This often becomes harder in old age when individuals are prescribed multiple daily tablets and can see their memory going downhill. This situation can lead to deteriorating health through avoidable conditions.

Delivering doses directly to the part of the body that’s affected can also help to cut down on unwanted side effects. Work is being carried out on producing a prototype for the implant, which could be ready within a year and measure less than a centimetre across.

It’s possible with the use of a new polymer surface material that switches from holding molecules to releasing them when an electrical pulse is passed through it. This can be set up on a smartphone app, making it convenient for patients, carers and families.

Gustav Ferrand-Drake del Castillo, lead author of a study on the material, 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 polymer on the surface of the electrode on the implant would be very thin and therefore require a small amount of power to operate. This would enable it to be sensitive to tiny electrochemical pulses that determine drug delivery.

Added advantages of the device include being able to adjust to changes in the body. For example, medications directed at the digestive system may be subjected to different levels of acidity.

The idea of implantable drug delivery systems is one that has interested scientists for a while and various teams around the world are working on such solutions. It’s thought patients suffering from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, which affects specific parts of the body, could benefit particularly well if the technology is refined and rolled out.

Mr Ferrand-Drake del Castillo added: “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.”