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Innovative medical implant uses a magnetic field to deliver drugs

Why it matters to you

In less than a decade, taking medication may be as easy as running a magnet over your skin.

In five years time, a magnetic implant may deliver your personalized dose of medication. The device has been developed by researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and could help ease treatments for patients required to take many pills or undergo regular intravenous injections.

At just six millimeters in diameter, the device is made of a silicone sponge and magnetic carbonyl iron particles encased in a round polymer. It’s designed to fit just under a patient’s skin. When activated by a magnet passed over the outside of the skin, the sponge deforms and its drug contents are dispersed through a small opening in the polymer casing.

A major benefit beyond its minimal invasiveness is that, unlike similar devices, which need a power source to disperse medication, the UBC device needs only an external magnetic field. This can be used to control dose sizes through magnets of varying strengths.

“We had a prior work on magnetic drug delivery device that contains a membrane and a drug reservoir,” Mu Chiao, a UBC professor of mechanical engineering who supervised the project, told Digital Trends. “It was quite challenging to make that device. So we thought about combining drug reservoirs and the membranes into one. Then we thought of a sponge.”

The device was loaded with docetaxel, a prostate cancer drug, and administered to animal tissue in laboratory trials. The researchers demonstrated that the magnet was able to function and the drug didn’t lose its potency, proving effective against cancer cells after repeated uses.

Though Chiao sad the implant is still at least five to ten years from commercialization, the researchers hope to target procedures that are close to the skin, such as long-term hormone treatment.

A paper detailing the study was published online in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.