An MIT spin-off in Massachusetts, backed by the Gates Foundation, has developed a small, remote-controlled drug-dispensing implant that sits just under your skin. To activate the drug dispenser you simply press a button on a wireless remote control — and press it again to turn it off. Such an implant could be used to dispense a whole range of useful drugs — but in this case, one of the first commercial applications will be the contraceptive hormone levonorgestrel, which is already used by a number of female birth control methods. A single implant can apparently provide enough levonorgestrel to be effective for 16 years; currently, no implanted contraceptive works for more than five years.
The implanted device, developed by the rather unimaginatively named Microchips in Lexington, is 20mm square and 7mm thick. Contained within the device is a microchip that contains a series of drug reservoirs. This is where the magic occurs: Each reservoir is gated by a special titanium and platinum seal that temporarily melts when an electric current is applied, allowing the drug to seep out. Apparently the reservoirs are large enough to carry a 16-year supply of the hormonal contraceptive levonorgestrel.
If 16 years of continued contraception wasn’t cool enough, the implant can also be activated and deactivated wirelessly. So, the implant would continue to provide birth control — until you press a button on a remote control, in which case it would be turned off, and you could then get pregnant again. Sadly, exact details on how the implant actually works — most notably the wireless connectivity and the magical melting/re-forming seal — are fairly hard to come by. But, considering it’s based on tech that MIT pioneered way back in the late ’90s, and now the involvement of the Gates Foundation, presumably it all works as advertised.
So far, the Microchips implant has been successfully used to dispense drugs to osteoporosis patients. Now, with the Gates Foundation getting involved, the new contraceptive version of the implant is being developed. The current plan is to begin testing in 2015 and have it on the market by 2018.
The obvious advantage of such a drug-dispensing implant is that it removes a large portion of the potential human error. Rather than having to take a pill every day, or visit a doctor for an injection every few months, the implant just sits there, dutifully dispensing drugs for 16 years. If you decide it’s the right time to get pregnant, just push the button. There’s no mention of it on the Microchips website, but presumably a male version could also be developed.
As with any medical implant, my mind readily races towards possible flaws and misuses of the Microchips technology. Obviously the wireless remote control is only useful if it remains in the hands of the woman with the implant. You also can’t rule out the possibility of outside actors remotely hacking the implant to turn it off — so the woman might think she’s protected, but isn’t. The possibilities get even scarier when you consider that these implants might eventually be used for other drugs, too. It was almost three years ago that we first discussed the lethal wireless insulin pump hack.
Imagine a future, where everyone is equipped with a range of drug-dispensing implants that lay dormant until they’re needed. Feeling the onset of ‘flu? Just push a button to dispense some drugs. Got food poisoning? Push the button. Feeling down and need a quick boost of serotonin? Mmm, warm and fuzzy button. Need to kill someone quickly and remotely? Hack one of their drug dispensing implants.