Tiny, Wireless Device Delivers Drugs Via Remote Control


Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Illinois have developed a new way to effectively deliver much-needed medicines to the body of a patient courtesy of a wireless device implanted in the brain and activated through a remote control.

In a study featured in the journal Cell, Washington University associate professor Dr. Michael R. Bruchas led a team of researchers in finding out the potential applications of optogenetics in the field of pharmacology.

Optogenetics is a study wherein scientists combine elements of optics and genetics in order to control specific events within the cells of living tissue. It features the discovery and insertion of certain genes into cells to make them more responsive to light. The targeted cell populations are then activated by flashing them with light.

While re-engineering neurons in human brains is yet to be made practical, Bruchas and his colleagues instead developed small wireless devices that are designed to deliver drugs directly to a patient's brain with a push of a button on a remote control.

The researchers tested the effectiveness of the wireless device by implanting them in the brains of laboratory mice. They chose mice that were specifically trained to react to stimulation by producing a dopamine-releasing protein whenever they are exposed to light. The dopamine serves as a reward for the animal by making them feel good.

When the mice returned to the same location on a maze to receive another dose of their dopamine reward, the researchers interfered with the animals' light-sensitive reaction by using the remote control to release a drug that counteracts the effects of dopamine on their receptors.

Bruchas and his colleagues believe that similar remote-controlled wireless devices can also be used for other areas of the human body aside from the brain, such as peripheral organs.

According to co-authors Dr. Jae-Woong Jeong, former postdoctoral researcher of the University of Illinois and now an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Dr. Jordan G. McCall, Bruchas Lab's graduate student, the new technology could benefit patients suffering from neurological disorders and other such problems.

As of the moment, the wireless device can only contain four chambers for medicines, but the researchers hope that they could design the device similar to the cartridge of a printer's ink so that it could deliver drugs to specific brain cells or other parts of the body.

The Washington University and the University of Illinois study is published in the journal Cell.

Photo: Dustin Askins | Flickr

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