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science saturday Researchers develop tiny implants to release painkillers

researcher and microchip

Lead researcher on the project, Matthieu Rüegg.

(EPFL/Murielle Gerber)

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) have developed tiny biodegradable circuits for releasing painkillers inside the body. 

The implants would reduce post-operative discomfort for patients being fitted with an orthopaedic prosthetic, and there would be no need for further surgery to remove them, according to the EPFLexternal link

Patients commonly experience a period of intense pain after such surgery, the researchers say. To control the pain, surgeons usually inject painkillers into the tissue during the operation. When that wears off a day or two later, patients are given morphine through a catheter placed near the spine. But catheters are not particularly comfortable, and the drugs spread throughout the body, affecting all organs. 

The new biodegradable electronic circuits can be placed in targeted locations and are made from magnesium that could be heated wirelessly from outside the body. 

The researchers’ end-goal is to pair the resonators with painkiller-filled capsules and then insert them into the tissue during surgery. The contents of the capsules could be released when an electromagnetic field sent from outside the body melts the capsule membrane. 

The invention is not quite ready for the operating room. “We still need to work on integrating the resonators into the final device and show that it’s possible to release drugs both in vitro and in vivo,” says PhD student and study leader Matthieu Rüegg.

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