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New Implantable Device Can Revolutionize Treatment of HIV, Cancer, and Other Diseases

A dynamic partnership has resulted in the development of a new, minimally-invasive device that can be used to treat HIV, cancer, and a number of other disease, ensuring medicinal adherence.

A dynamic partnership between two researchers has resulted in the development of a new, implantable device that can be used to treat HIV, cancer, and other diseases, completely changing how medicinal doses are delivered for these kinds of ailments.

Lyle Hood, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio partnered with Alessandro Grattoni, PhD, chair of the department of Nanomedicine at Houston Methodist Research Institute to develop this minimally-invasive device.

In a recent press release, Dr. Hood explained, “The problem with most drug-delivery systems is that you have a specific minimum dosage of medicine that you need to take for it to be effective. There’s also a limit to how much of the drug can be present in your system so that it doesn’t make you sick.”

Normally these cases would mean that individuals need multiple visits to the doctor to receive injections, or they would need to take a pill every day. Although, these inconveniences might make adhering to treatment regimens more difficult, the “drug-delivery system” allows for individuals to skip these approaches to treatment because it is implanted within the body.

According to Dr. Hood, “It’s an implantable capsule, filled with medicinal fluid that uses about 5000 nanochannels to regulate the rate of release of the medicine. This way, we have the proper amount of drugs in the person’s system to be effective, but not so much that they’ll harm the person.”

According to the recent study on the device, this kind of drug-delivery has the “dual benefit of reducing systemic toxicity while enhancing efficacy for malignant cells.” This implantable capsule is capable of delivering medicinal doses ranging from “several days or a few weeks,” which makes it especially effective when it comes to treating cancer. According to Dr. Hood, however, a larger version of this device that had been developed by Dr. Grattoni, is capable of treating HIV in individuals for an entire year’s time.

When explaining the importance of adherence to treatment when it comes to HIV, Dr. Hood said, “In HIV treatment, you can bombard the virus with drugs to the point that that person is no longer infectious and shows no symptoms. The danger is that if that person stops taking their drugs, the amount of medicine in his or her system drops below the effective dose and the virus is able to become resistant to the treatments.”

There are a number of reasons why adhering to medical treatment for HIV can be difficult. Sometimes the side effects of the HIV-medication will interfere with other drugs that the individual is taking; they may have trouble swallowing pills; alcohol and drug use may get in the way of treatment; a busy schedule may prevent the individual from taking the medication on time, etc. Lastly, cost is one of the biggest factors: some individuals cannot afford their needed medication due to lack of health insurance.

However, this intramural delivery system may be a way to overcome a number of these obstacles because the medication is implanted and it constantly delivers medicinal doses at the intended times.

The potential use of this device goes beyond HIV treatment, too. According to the press release, this device may also be used as a means to avoid painful injections, a way to deliver cortisone to joints that have been damaged, or even to provide an additional avenue for immunotherapy to treat those with cancer.

Dr. Hood explained, “The idea behind immunotherapy is to deliver a cocktail of immune drugs to call attention to the cancer in a person’s body, so the immune system will be inspired to get rid of the cancer itself.”

Dr. Hood partnered with Teja Guda, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, to create a “fully biodegradable iteration of the device” using 3-D printing technology. Currently, the device is injected under the skin, but researchers hope that this collaboration will result in a version of the device that can be swallowed.