Microchips run our cars, our washing machines, and even our coffee machines. Soon, they might also dispense medicine. The first study of this approach in people shows that microchips implanted under the skin deliver regular doses of a drug to fight osteoporosis, the bone-weakening condition common in the elderly. Ultimately, this technology may help treat a variety of diseases, including multiple sclerosis and cancer.
Automated drug-delivery devices are already widespread. Insulin pumps that release doses automatically have spared many diabetics from the painful and onerous routine of daily insulin shots. But osteoporosis patients taking the bone-boosting drug teriparatide, a version of parathyroid hormone, still must inject themselves every day. Even former soldiers balk, says Robert Adler, chief of endocrinology at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, who wasn’t involved in the study. “You have people who have been in foxholes getting shot at and you wave a needle at them, and they run the other way,” he says. So even though teriparatide is the only drug on the market that builds bone, “its use is limited by the inconvenience of administration,” says E. Michael Lewiecki, an osteoporosis researcher at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque, who also wasn’t a part of the study.
Read More: A Pharmacy Under Your Skin