Researchers at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and Northwestern University developed technology that uses external light sources to trigger drug delivery.
Yamin Zhang and Dr. Colin Franz of Shirley Ryan and John Rogers of Northwestern led the research team. They say their technology represents the first implantable drug delivery system triggered by external light sources. These light sources of different wavelengths offer an alternative to electronic power.
They also say it’s the first such system capable of absorption by the body. It could avoid surgical extraction while still allowing active control and programming by the operator. The team published a study highlighting this device in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“This technology represents a breakthrough addressing shortfalls of current drug delivery systems — one that could have important and sweeping implications for everything from the opioid epidemic to how cancer treatments are precisely delivered,” said Franz, a physician-scientist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.
About the novel drug delivery approach
Current passive implantable drug delivery systems enable the gradual release of drugs and don’t require extraction at the end of use, the team said. However, the user can’t actively control them. Active systems that allow programmable drug release require power supplies and electronic parts. The researchers also say they require a second surgery for device extraction.
To test this technology, the researchers surgically implanted it into the right sciatic nerve of individual rats. Each device included three drug reservoirs. They were filled with lidocaine, a common nerve-pain-blocking drug. The researchers then placed three LEDs over the implantation sites to trigger drug release.
After release, testing demonstrated “marked” pain relief for the rats, as well as different patterns of relief depending on color-light sequencing.
“We found this approach to be an effective, safe and non-addictive alternative to systemically delivered pain medications,” said Rogers. “Additionally, it can be scaled. Although we used a combination of three LEDs in our proof-of-concept testing, moving forward we can potentially increase it up to 30 different LED wavelengths, offering many more programs for pain relief.”
The team aims to review safety elements in future studies before pursuing FDA authorization for human clinical trials.
“This technology has many promising implications in rehabilitation medicine and beyond, and the collaboration among physicians, material scientists and biomedical engineers at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and Northwestern University is rapidly accelerating clinically relevant discoveries,” Dr. Franz.