The blood-brain barrier is a picky bouncer, preventing most therapeutic compounds from crossing its barricades. To get around this challenge and to be able to treat a variety of neurological conditions, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a wireless implant that can be remotely controlled to release drugs right into the brain.
The device, about the width of human hair, is soft and flexible, and contains four tiny drug chambers. It also has a tiny LED built-in that can deliver light to the implantation site because it was originally developed for studying optogenetics, a technique that uses genetic modification to make some cells sensitive to light and then activating them using a light source.
The drug delivery component is particularly interesting for clinical research, since optogenetics is only practical for researchers studying biological processes. Yet, in laboratory studies, the combination of the two factors can help identify which compounds are promising neurological drug candidates. Moreover, because the device doesn’t require wires coming out of the animal being studied, it allows for more lifelike experiments when the subject can move freely and do its normal thing.
The device reacts to infrared light to open up its drug chambers. Since such frequencies of light are able to penetrate a patient’s skull, the infrared light source can be used as a simple remote control to open up the drug chambers as necessary.