Company Works to Develop ‘Pharmacy on a Chip’
MicroChips Inc. is working to develop a computer chip that could be inserted underneath the skin to administer medications in small, electronically released doses, the Boston Globe/San Francisco Chronicle reports. Using 1980s semiconductor technology, the "medical chip" would contain "hundreds of microscopic reservoirs" that could hold powder, liquid or gel medications including painkillers, antibiotics or hormones. The medications would be released by a built-in battery-powered microcomputer, allowing multiple drugs to be administered at different times. While human trials are still "several years away," MicroChips is looking at potential applications for the chip. For example, the chip could be used to regulate medications in intravenous drips with no pumps, valves or movable parts, giving nurses, physicians, and pharmacists "accurate patient records." MicroChips founder John Santini is collaborating with MIT professors Robert Langer and Michael Cima on the project. Santini said, "I think a microchip that dispenses medicine and keeps track of it, both in people and in devices, can reach a very wide audience of users."
While testing is still years away, semiconductor chip use for "outside the body" medical purposes is fueling the "DNA arrays" industry. Still a "relatively small," $300 million-a-year industry, DNA arrays have been used to develop chips that can identify criminals by DNA found at crime scenes, determine the best treatments for cancer patients and identify a person's risk for Alzheimer's or heart disease. Other chips are being developed to analyze blood samples to scan for any "disease- causing mutations" in genes. Langer said, "This is a distinctive technology that could change a lot of things because there are so many uses" (Rosenberg, Boston Globe/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.