MicroCHIPS wireless drug delivery device

This microchip-based drug delivery device is programmable and can be wirelessly controlled to release each dose as specified.It's approximately 5 x 3 x 1 centimeters.

Photo courtesy of MicroCHIPS Inc.

Taking medicine daily may be the norm for people with chronic illnesses. But what if medications didn't have to be taken orally or through injections? What if doctors could put a pharmacy of sorts inside our bodies, activating treatment at the press of a button?

For people with medical conditions like multiple sclerosis or diabetes, that scenario could become a reality, thanks to developments in wireless drug delivery. The idea is to attach or implant a device in a patient, and the device would have prepackaged doses of medicine in it, which could be programmed or wirelessly commanded to be released in the body.

Take the technology used by a company called MicroCHIPS Inc., for example. Researchers inserted a small microchip beneath the skin in patients with osteoporosis [source: Farra et al.]. The team programmed and commanded the implanted chips to release tiny doses of medication -- about 40 micrograms -- in the patients' bodies over time. Routine injections were replaced by one chip doing all the work. Well, one chip and a few special radio signals.

And, as wild as it sounds, doctors might someday use cell phones to signal implanted chips.

"Ultimately, that signal can come from a cell phone, so the patient's cell phone can be receiving instructions from a physician located thousands of miles away," says Robert Farra, president of MicroCHIPS. "And their cell phones would be within reach of their bodies to instruct the device to release it on demand."

Wireless drug delivery might make you think of a scene from "Innerspace" or maybe "Escape From New York," but the reality is it's a growing field that shows promise for patients with chronic medical conditions.

Let's take a closer look at how these devices work once they set up shop inside a patient's body.