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TINY MICROCHIPS HAVE BIG PROMISE IN FIGHTING SERIOUS DISEASES
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Treatment for life-threatening diseases and
relief from disease-related pain may one day be supplied by microscopic
chips that could be implanted in the body, according to researchers
in the new field of biomedical nanotechnology.
Such chips - called biological microelectromechanical devices
(bioMEMS) - are less than half the width of a human hair. They
could contain drugs, muscle cells or even be equipped to monitor
a patient's condition minute-to-minute. And these devices already
show therapeutic potential for treating heart disease and diabetes.
"The development of these microscopic chips will let
us do a whole host of exciting things in biomedicine," said
Robert Michler, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Ohio State
University. Michler and several colleagues discussed the role
nanotechnology may play in medicine of the future during a presentation
Sept. 26 in Columbus at the BioMEMS
and Biomedical Nanotechnology World 2000 meeting, co-sponsored
by Ohio State.
Michler said doctors in the future will combine the use of
nanotechnology with another revolutionary process - robotic surgery.
Michler led a study using robotic techniques to perform open-heart
surgery on 60 patients. Surgeons in the study took arteries from
the patients' chest walls and sewed them on to their hearts.
Robotic surgery has the advantage of precision, as it "can
gain access to very small areas inside the body," he said.
Michler envisions using robotic surgery to place microchips
inside the body, such as on heart tissue or blood vessels. The
chips could contain stem cells - cells that give rise to specific
types of cells, such as those comprising muscles, organs, blood
and other tissues. They could also contain chemicals that would
stimulate the growth of blood vessels, or medication that is
slowly released into the body, Michler said.
"The use of microscopic chips will take heart disease
treatment to the next level," he said. "It has the
potential to let physicians assess the benefit of their work
right in the operating room, rather than waiting to see if symptoms
"We're ready to create the chips and use the robot to
insert them into the hearts of lab animals," Michler said.
"We're looking at probably five years before human clinical
Joining Michler on the panel were Costantino Benedetti, director
of cancer pain, therapy and palliative medicine at the James
Cancer Hospital at Ohio State; Michael Caligiuri, the associate
director for clinical research at Ohio State's Comprehensive
Cancer Center; and Pascal Goldschmidt, chief of cardiology at
Duke University. They offered their perspective on how nanotechnology
will affect patient treatment in the future:
- Treating the pain associated with surgery is poorly done
in more than 50 percent of patients, even with today's technology,
says Benedetti. Benedetti hopes for the development of a local
anesthetic that could last days - or even weeks - and be released
inside the body through slow-release technology. Today's strongest
local anesthetics last a maximum of eight hours, Benedetti said.
"A drug delivery system that would allow a short-acting
anesthetic to be released slowly would be advantageous,"
he said. For example, a surgeon could place the slow-release
anesthetic in the wound at the end of the surgical procedure,
forgoing the need for traditional post-operation pain relief.
A painkiller released slowly inside the body would prevent the
pain impulses from reaching the brain, so a patient would never
feel the pain.
- While the field of cancer vaccines is in its "infancy,"
said Caligiuri, there is the potential to develop a vaccine-containing
chip or slow-release capsule taken orally that can target specific
types of cancer. "Cancer prevention via vaccination is a
huge frontier," he said. Other than developing the appropriate
vaccines, obstacles to overcome also include determining the
right dose of the vaccine, where in the body to deliver it and
the duration of delivery. "Drug delivery devices would give
us much better control of dosing, thus enhancing the effectiveness
of the drug while limiting its toxicity," Caligiuri said.
Also, a chip could house the tools to relay to physicians
information on potentially cancerous tissues. "Most men
70 and older harbor some evidence of pre-malignant or even malignant
cancer in the prostate tissue, although the majority of these
will never become a problem during their lifetime," Caligiuri
said. But microchips equipped with sensors could detect mutated
genes or dangerous levels of hormones, and enable doctors to
determine which tissues to treat.
- Microchips could contain stem cells - cells that give rise
to other specialized cells - that would grow and proliferate
inside the body. This chip technology could even create new tissue
on damaged organs. "Instead of transplanting a whole organ,
we would do a transplant using stem cells," Goldschmidt
said. "These cells can be engineered inside the body to
ensure that normal heart tissue would form even in the region
damaged by a heart attack."
The possibilities also include cellular therapy - Goldschmidt
envisions one day using a device called a nanoneedle to analyze
the cells of heart tissue in a patient with heart disease. Using
such a small needle would allow doctors to "see" damaged
genes. They could then use stem cell transplantation to replenish
the damaged tissue. "It's a totally new way of detecting
faulty genes," Goldschmidt said. "We could look at
the tissue in question and, without having to do a biopsy, see
if the tissue is damaged."
Goldschmidt also talked about "smart stents" - these
stents would support tissue and keep the blood vessels of the
heart open, and also be able to detect changes in blood flow.
"Smart stents would have a sensory role," Goldschmidt
said. "They would gather information on how blood flows
organ, without the need for a physician to directly examine the
- Robert Michler, (614) 293-5502; Michler.email@example.com
Costantino Benedetti, (614) 293-6040; Benedetti.firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Caligiuri, (614) 293-7521; Caligiuriemail@example.com
- Pascal Goldschmidt, (919) 681-6000; Golds017@mc.duke.edu
Written by Holly Wagner, (614) 292-8310; Wagner.firstname.lastname@example.org