Farra and his team are working to create a future where this dosing device will also keep tabs on patients. They are turning the chip into a closed-loop system that monitors and treats conditions on its own. They have already developed a sensor that can take glucose readings: If it sensed a drastic change in levels, it could release a tailored dose. Animal trials suggest that these sensors could last for a year or so before they stop working, which is longer than many other current devices being tested. For a high-risk heart failure patient, Farra says, it might be possible for the device to monitor the heart for signs of a heart attack and release drugs to decrease damage to the heart muscle during a cardiac event.
The microchip might not be perfect for every medication. As Langer notes, high-dose drugs, such as antibiotics, probably are better administered in other ways.
Langer sees implantable drug chips as more than just a new tool for doctors and patients—they are a sign that the true "dawn of telemedicine" has arrived, he says. Remote communication with doctors and patients or remote robotic surgery might only have been a warm-up. "You can now do remote control from outside the body," Langer says.