Implantable medical devices (IMDs) are increasingly and excitedly discussed as an innovative medical technology. Actually, they’ve been around since 1958, when the first pacemaker was implanted in Sweden. But there are cases when their evolution takes such a major step as to justify talking about a revolution. One such development is the electronic implant created by the Tufts University’s School of Engineering.
This consists of a tiny device which releases a pharmaceutical product when triggered by a special remote wireless signal, and then harmlessly dissolves within minutes or weeks.
The implementation of this concept has massive potential implications for the future marketing of on-demand medical devices which can be remotely activated to perform a specific therapeutic function. The major advantage is that such devices will not suffer from limited operational lifetimes and will not need surgery to be removed after use... instead simply dissolving without trace into the body.
The Tufts research team used a resistor (as a source of heat for releasing the device’s pharmaceutical content and also to help dissolve the implant) and a power-receiving coil made of magnesium and enclosed in a silk protein “pocket” which also protects the electronics and controls the device’s dissolution time.
The devices were tested by being implanted in mice infected with Staphylococcus aureus. Here they were activated via wireless transmitter to cause two 10-minute heat treatments which triggered drug release and initiated the dissolving process. Researchers gathered tissue samples from the mice 24 hours after the two heat treatments and found no further sign of infection. Fifteen days later, the silk and magnesium devices had completely dissolved. Magnesium levels at the site of the device and in the immediate vicinity were no higher than in other areas of the body.
Obviously, the scenarios opened up by this development have stimulated fertile imaginations, awakening James Bond-type cinematic fantasies where devices could be implanted containing poison instead of antibiotics, leading to the ultimate in blackmail or else a remote-controlled death… and possibly a perfect crime, considering that the evidence would dissolve without trace!
Forbes has forecast that the medical device industry will post an 8% yearly growth rate and reach a $73.9 billion turnover by 2018. Devices like this one, triggered externally and then dissolving harmlessly, could potentially boost growth well beyond 2018.
Naturally, much has still to be done to perfect the technology and go through the lengthy processes to obtain the necessary authorisations to market it.
The research was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition the week of November 24-28, 2014.