Implantable Device Delivers Medicine One Molecule at a Time

New implantable device, smaller than your index finger, may be able to deliver medicine one molecule at a time. It's a pinpoint-accurate implantable drug pump that could be used to treat fractured spine, pinched nerve, or neurological disorders like epilepsy.


The findings were published in Science by a team of engineers and researchers in Sweden. The implantable drug pump delivers medicine at a very precise level. It requires only 1% of drugs doctors would otherwise need to use.

The technology was tested in rats through a tiny pump that attaches directly to the spine, at the root of a nerve, and inject its medicine molecule by molecule. In theory, this pump could tell you exactly how many molecules the device delivers. At such small doses, this could avoid adverse drug side effects.

The technology is based on an ion pump – an electric current enters the ion pump one electron at a time. Medicine is pushed out the other side one molecule at a time.

There is one limitation: Only medicines that can be electrically charged can be used with the pump. This still includes a lot of pain management medications like morphine and opiates.
In the study, experimented with GABA, a chemical relaxes nerves and reduces pain. This chemical stops being produced where the nerves are broken. Researchers wanted to use new drug pump to put more GABA back into the broken part of the spine.

This would effectively treat the pain. It only works because of pinpoint precision, could inject small amount of GABA right where needed, and not have risk of major damage. Otherwise pumping GABA into the system would start to shut down nervous system and travel throughout the spine. Medical device still in research phase, may take years to have a working ion drug pump on the market. Increasing the pump size for human use will have unforeseen complications that engineers and researchers will need to figure out.

The implications however are quite immense. With this type of pump, combined with an ability to locate biomarkers, which could have controlled and precise delivery of drugs.

An example may be something like epileptic drugs exactly when a seizure started and where a patient would need them. We're looking forward to seeing how this plays out.