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New remote-controlled brain implant can deliver medicine at the click of a button

Taking your medication may be as easy as pushing a button in the future. In research published in the journal Cell, scientists at Washington University in St. Louis detail how they successfully implanted a tiny wireless device in mice brains that delivered drugs directly to the organ by way of a remote control. While no humans have yet been subjected to this treatment, but researchers are hopeful that such a procedure would one day make the treatment of depression, pain, epilepsy, and other neurological disorders much easier, with medication being sent straight to the problem area at the click of a button.

The device, which is about as wide as a strand of hair, mimics the texture of soft brain tissue and contains four chambers that can administer drugs to a particular region of the brain on remote-control command. Alternatively, the device can also deliver light to certain areas of the brain, directly causing certain reactions but limiting potentially adverse side effects that may be a product of the interaction of the light (or drug) with another part of the brain. Jordan McCall, a graduate student at the lab, said in a statement, “We’ve designed it to exploit infrared technology, similar to that used in a TV remote. If we want to influence an animal’s behavior with light or with a particular drug, we can simply point the remote at the animal and press a button.”

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While other technology that attempts to deliver drugs to specific areas of the brain has historically required a complex setup with animals being tethered to tubes or otherwise rendered immobile, this new implant allowed its test mice to carry out their day-to-day lives without any real hindrance. “With one of these tiny devices implanted, we could theoretically deliver a drug to a specific brain region and activate that drug with light as needed. This approach potentially could deliver therapies that are much more targeted but have fewer side effects,” said co-principal investigator Michael R. Bruchas, Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and neurobiology at Washington University.

Ultimately, the team at Washington University hopes that their discoveries may further aid in discovering how neural networks operate and how diseases can be treated. But for now, it’s enough to know that when it comes to medicine in mice, you can just point and click for desired effect.