New self-powered drug delivery system

US researchers have invented a drug delivery technology that has implications for opioid epidemic, cancer treatment, rehabilitation care and more.

drug delivery

A team of scientists at Northwestern University, US, has developed a novel technology with the potential to change the future of drug delivery.

The device developed, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), represents the first implantable drug delivery system that is triggered by external light sources of different wavelengths, and not by electronics. It also is the first to be absorbable by the body (avoiding surgical extraction) while still allowing active control and programming by the operator.

“This technology represents a breakthrough addressing shortfalls of current drug delivery systems- one that could have important and sweeping implications for everything from the opioid epidemic to how cancer treatments are precisely delivered,” said Dr Colin Franz, physician-scientist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Current implantable drug delivery systems are used to treat medical conditions ranging from chronic pain and muscle spasticity to cancer and diabetes. Passive systems enable gradual release of drugs and do not require extraction at the end of their use, but they cannot be actively controlled by the user. Conversely, active systems that allow programmable drug release require power supplies and electronic parts, and eventually require a second surgery for device extraction.

To test this novel technology, the researchers surgically implanted it into the right sciatic nerve of individual rats. Each device contained three drug reservoirs filled with lidocaine- a common nerve-pain-blocking drug.

Then, three light emitting diodes (LEDs) were placed over the implantation sites to trigger release of the drug. Subsequent testing showed marked pain relief among the rats. Moreover, the team were able to achieve different patterns of pain relief depending on the LED colour-light sequencing.

“We found this approach to be an effective, safe and non-addictive alternative to systemically delivered pain medications,” said Northwestern University’s Dr John Rogers. “Additionally, it can be scaled. Although we used a combination of three LEDs in our proof-of-concept testing, moving forward we can potentially increase it up to 30 different LED wavelengths, offering many more programmes for pain relief.” 

In future studies, the scientific team will review various safety elements prior to seeking US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance for human clinical trials.

“This technology has many promising implications in rehabilitation medicine and beyond, and the collaboration is rapidly accelerating clinically relevant discoveries,” concluded Franz,