Artificial muscles release medicine from tiny implants

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Scientists have come one step closer to creating "smart" medical implants with the development of tiny artificial muscles at Ohio State University.

Researchers here have designed implantable capsules perforated with microscopic holes to dispense medication, with each hole guarded by a tiny ring of artificial muscle made of soft, gel-like plastic.

Marc Madou, professor of materials science and engineering and lead investigator on the project, calls the plastic capsules "smart pills," although they are not meant to be swallowed. Instead, the capsules would be implanted beneath the skin.

"Our pill is different from other implants because it's 'smart' -- it gives only the amount of drug that the body needs," said Madou. Beyond dispensing drugs to patients -- such as insulin to diabetics -- the artificial muscles could power tiny pumps for other micro-sized medical devices, or separate chemicals in the lab, Madou said.

He described the "smart pill" and its applications at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. and in a keynote address for the conference Eurosensors XIV in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The artificial muscle work builds upon Madou's previous work in microsensors and biomedical microelectromechanical devices. He has developed tiny sensors that will reside on the outside of the plastic capsules to sense concentrations of certain chemicals in a patient's bloodstream.

When sensors detect that a patient needs medication, the artificial muscles will shrink away from the holes in the wall to let medicine pass into the bloodstream. Once the right amount of medicine has left the capsule, the muscles will swell back up, and plug the holes once again. When the capsule runs out of medicine, it could be surgically removed and a new one implanted, Madou said.

The matchstick-sized plastic capsules measure one inch long and four millimeters wide. The perforations and the artificial m

Contact: Marc Madou
Ohio State University

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