Take a Chip and Call Me in 16 Years

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10015949-microchipBack in 1993 John Santini, an undergraduate at the University of Michigan inspired by a presentation given by MIT professor Michael Cima, started to develop the idea of storing tiny doses of medicine in a chip like those found in electronic devices and then using an electronic signal to release the medicine over months or years. This idea became the basis for the Lexington, MA-based company, MicroCHIPS. The results of a clinical trial, published in 2012 were promising. The device delivered the drug consistently, but would have to be too big for long term use. Since then, MicroCHIPS has drastically reduced the size of the device while increasing the amount of drugs it can hold.

MicroCHIPS’ technology is based on arrays of tiny reservoirs that are used to store and protect drugs within the body for long periods of time. The device is implanted in a patient during an outpatient procedure using local anesthesia. Using a wireless signal an electrical current is generated from an internal battery that melts the covering of one of the reservoirs, releasing the drug. This can happen on a preset schedule or on demand, via a remote control. The process continues until all the doses are delivered.

About two years ago this technology caught the attention of Bill Gates and staff members of the Gates Foundation. They were especially interested in ways to make birth control convenient for people in developing countries where clinics and pharmacies can be scarce and hard to get to. This led to $6.2 million in grants for MicroCHIPS and a new device measuring just 20 x 20 x 7 millimeters that can dispense doses of a hormone used for birth control for over 16 years. It can even last longer if a woman uses a remote control to turn of the device during periods when she is pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

The device is expected to begin pre-clinical testing next year, with the goal of having it on the market by 2018. Its success could ensure a profitable future for MicroCHIPS. A recently formed global partnership, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), has spurred the creation of a coalition of governments, private companies and nonprofits that are committed to providing family planning to 120 million more women by 2020.

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