Remote-Controlled Drug Delivery Implant May One Day Help Diabetes Management

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By : dLife Editors

People with chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes and heart disease may one day forego the daily regimen of pills and, instead, receive a scheduled dosage of medication through a grape-sized implant that is remotely controlled.

Researchers from Houston Methodist in Houston, TX successfully delivered continuous, predetermined dosages of two chronic disease medications using a nanochannel delivery system (nDS) that they remotely controlled using Bluetooth technology.

The nDS device provides controlled release of drugs without the use of pumps, valves or a power supply for possibly up to a year without a refill for some patients.

The researchers have also explored the use of their remotely controlled implant for the delivery of insulin for patients affected by diabetes.

“In this context, the implant could communicate with implanted or wearable glucose sensors via Bluetooth and respond as a closed-loop system with the delivery of insulin at the right dose and at the right time,” Dr. Alessandro Grattoni, one of the authors of the study tells dLife.

“Due to the significant amount of insulin required, the implant could be refilled through the skin periodically, avoiding frequent surgical replacements,” he says. “The frequency of refilling would depend on the amount of insulin needed and the size of the implant.”

How Does it Work?

The battery-powered implant contains a microchip that is Bluetooth enabled and relies on wireless communication.

To prove the technology worked as planned, the microchip was programmed for three different drug release settings – standard, decreased and increased. With each setting, a specific voltage was applied to a silicon nanochannel within the implant to control drug release.

Current drug delivery devices, such as pain or insulin implants, rely on pumping mechanisms or external ports and typically need refills every couple of months.

The Houston Methodist device is implanted under the skin and uses a nanofluidic membrane made with similar technology used in the silicon semiconductor industry.

The drug dosage and schedule can be tailored to each patient, and the implant delivers the drugs for many months, even a year, before refills are needed.

The team’s research published in Lab on a Chip explains how the researchers accomplished long-term delivery of drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure, medications that are often administered at specific times of the day or at varying dosages based on patient needs.

“We see this universal drug implant as part of the future of health care innovation. Some chronic disease drugs have the greatest benefit of delivery during overnight hours when it’s inconvenient for patients to take oral medication,” says Grattoni.

“This device could vastly improve their disease management and prevent them from missing doses, simply with a medical professional overseeing their treatment remotely,” he says.

Grattoni and the Houston Methodist researchers have worked on implantable nanochannel delivery systems to regulate the delivery of a variety of therapies for medical issues ranging from HIV-prevention to cancer.

Plans for the Future

As basic research progresses with the remote-controlled device, the Houston Methodist technology is planned for extreme remote communication testing on the International Space Station in 2020.

The team hopes that one day the system will be widely available to clinicians to treat patients remotely via telemedicine. This could provide both an improvement in the patients’ quality of life and a reduction of cost to the health care system.

As far as challenges associated with the remotely controlled implants, Grattoni says the regulatory process for achieving clearance to perform clinical studies is lengthy.

He indicates another challenge is developing a suitable system to safely manage remote communications between implants and control units to avoid undesirable interference and breach of communication protocols.

“The implant is designed to address the unmet clinical need of precise ad-hoc dosing of patients, based on their individual needs,” says Grattoni. “Our implant does not use complex pumping mechanisms or valves and moving components.”

As far as device safety, Grattoni says the implants only employ safe levels of electrical potential (1.5 V) to control the release of drugs. “This mitigates the risk of failure and increases the safety and reliability of the drug delivery strategy,” he says.

The study has been published in Lab on a Chip.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study.

Houston Methodist.

Feature image: Remote-controlled implantable nanochannel drug delivery system (nDS) created by nanomedicine researchers at Houston Methodist Research Institute. Credit: Houston Methodist.


  1. Houston Methodist. (2019, June 25). Remote-Controlled Nanochannel Drug Delivery System. EurekAlert! Retrieved June 27, 2019 from