The idea of creating a microchip to dispense drugs in humans began in the 1990s by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Two of them are now on the Board of the company MicroCHIPS which is developing such a product.
They hope to have it to market in 2017.
About the size of a Scrabble tile, the microchip is filled with medications and is programmed to dispense them automatically at exactly the right dose, then implanted under the skin.
Adjustments can be made remotely by a physician. Says CEO of MicroCHIPS, Bradley Paddock:
“The MicroCHIPS implantable drug delivery device is the greatest advancement in delivering medicine since the first tablet pill was developed in 1876.”
The first in-human testing of the chip was performed in 2012 on eight women with osteoporosis. The chip was implanted beneath the skin and an osteoporosis medication was released on a regular schedule over a four-month period. Physicians monitored drug release and dosage remotely. The device was found to be safe and effective. Since then, improvements to the chip enable it to now administer a larger variety of drugs.
The first version scheduled to be released will likely be a hormonal contraception device that can deliver progestin and estrogen together like a combination birth control pill. The initial chip is expected to be productive for five years but the expectation is that further development will make it possible to administer medication effectively for up to sixteen years. Data from the chip can also transmit to doctors and hospitals so your drug history can be documented.
A similar device is also under development to treat chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis. This opens the door to potential new therapies because the chip protects unstable drugs. An additional use planned for this technology is as a rescue device for high-risk patients for drug release in the event of heart attack, stroke, or allergic reactions.
While the idea of automated drug management might be attractive, offering freedom from having to remember what you took and when, there are very serious implications.
Will physicians be willing to assume extra responsibility for maintaining their patients’ drug regimens on a daily basis? How will you know if the dosage is correct in the short term and if it’s not, what are the consequences? For how many people is it really a burden to monitor their own health?
Given that all things—animate and inanimate—are subject to change and error, a device invisible and inaccessible to you that is responsible for your well-being requires a great deal of your trust.