Implant senses opioid overdose and administers life-saving antidote
Thanks to a US$10-million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a team of researchers is accelerating its development of a bioelectronic implant designed to sense an opioid overdose and immediately administer a dose of life-saving naloxone.
“Deaths from opioid overdose represent a human health crisis of epic proportions,” explains John Rogers, principle investigator on the new project. “We envision an engineering-oriented approach to this crisis that exploits innovative bio-integrated electronic technologies.”
The proposed implant offers a relatively straightforward solution to opioid overdose. A tiny device, similar in size to a small USB thumb drive, could be implanted under the skin and detect when a person is overdosing using a sensor that can track blood oxygen levels.
“These small, wireless implants support compact, sealed reservoirs filled with naloxone,” says Rogers. “A miniaturized, continuous sensor of tissue oxygenation identifies overdose episodes that lead to dangerously low oxygen supply, thereby automatically triggering the immediate release of a life-saving dose of naloxone – as an autonomous emergency response.”
A similar implant is also being developed by a team of engineers from Purdue University. Both implants still require further work before human testing, and while they offer a compelling novel strategy to battle the growing toll of opioid overdose, it is unclear exactly how they could be deployed in real-world conditions. Are at-risk opioid users expected to freely choose to have a device like this implanted?
Another interesting overdose prevention device proposed earlier this year involved a sonar-based smartphone app that uses inaudible sound waves to track the rate of a person’s breathing. That device, while ingenious, also required a degree of active engagement from an opioid user to work. In that case a user would need to activate the app before consuming a drug. It also requires a drug user to be willing to have the app automatically contact emergency services if it identifies an overdose.
This newly announced bioelectronic implant project is just one of many grants awarded by the NIH as part of its massive HEAL initiative (Helping to End Addiction Long-term). The government funded project has awarded nearly $1 billion in grants across 2019 alone, with a goal to tackle the opioid crisis through a broad spectrum of research targets.
“It’s clear that a multi-pronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids,” says NIH director Francis Collins. “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis.”
Source: Northwestern Now