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Smart Implantable Device Changes Shape to Maintain Drug Dosage

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 31 Aug 2023
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Image: AI-enabled soft robotic implant monitors scar tissue to self-adapt for personalized drug treatment (Photo courtesy of University of Galway)
Image: AI-enabled soft robotic implant monitors scar tissue to self-adapt for personalized drug treatment (Photo courtesy of University of Galway)

Implantable medical devices offer the potential for revolutionary therapeutic solutions in healthcare, such as insulin release for diabetes treatment. However, a significant hurdle to these devices is the body's response to foreign objects. Now, a new breakthrough in medical device technology facilitated by the use of soft robotics advances the potential for implantable devices to remain inside a patient's body for prolonged periods, enabling long-term therapeutic treatment. This innovation closely resembles a therapeutic implant equipped with the capability to sense its environment and react as required using artificial intelligence (AI). This development could revolutionize implantable drug delivery for various chronic diseases.

Research teams at University of Galway (Galway, Ireland) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA) have developed an intelligent device that is capable of sensing its surroundings and adapting itself for releasing drugs as needed, even in the presence of surrounding scar tissue. This smart implantable device is adept at administrating drugs, while simultaneously bypassing scar tissue build up and monitoring the body's response, as well as adjusting its shape to maintain precise drug dosing with the use of AI. The technology could pave the way for intelligent, long-term, tailored treatment for patients by combining soft robotics with AI.

Initially, the research team developed flexible devices, known as soft robotic implants, to enhance drug delivery and reduce fibrosis. While successful, these devices were seen as one-size-fits-all solutions, disregarding individual patient needs and the progressive nature of fibrosis. In their latest research, the team significantly enhanced this technology through AI integration, making it responsive to the implant surroundings. This adaptability holds promise for extending device longevity by countering the body's natural characteristic to reject foreign entities.

In order to tackle the challenge of scar tissue formation, the research team harnessed an emerging technique called mechanotherapy. Soft robotic implants make regular movements within the body, preventing scar tissue accumulation by performing actions such as inflation and deflation. A key aspect of the advanced implantable device is a conductive porous membrane capable of detecting blockages caused by scar tissue. This detection mechanism identifies blocked pores through disruptions in electrical signals passing through the membrane, triggered by cells and their secretions. The researchers believe that their medical device breakthrough could usher in independent closed-loop implants that not only reduce fibrotic encapsulation but also continually sense and intelligently adjust drug release activity in response.

“The device worked out the best regime to release a consistent dose, by itself, even when significant fibrosis was simulated,” said Professor Garry Duffy, Professor of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine at University of Galway, and senior author on the study. “We showed a worst-case scenario of very thick and dense scar tissue around the device and it overcame this by changing how it pumps to deliver medication. We could finely control the drug release in a computational model and on the bench using soft robotics, regardless of significant fibrosis.”

“If we can sense how the individual’s immune system is responding to an implanted therapeutic device and modify the dosing regime accordingly, it could have great potential in personalized, precision drug delivery, reducing off-target effects and ensuring the right amount of drug is delivered at the right time. The work presented here is a step towards that goal,” added Professor Ellen Roche, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT.

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