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SA Engineers Developing Tiny Implantable Drug Delivery Device

Wendy Rigby
Texas Public Radio
UTSA engineers are working on a drug delivery device the size of the head of a pen.

San Antonio engineers are working on a brand new way to deliver medications inside the body. An incredible innovation, the tiny implants could help save lives.

Cancer, H-I-V, diabetes. These potentially deadly diseases require daily medications. Biomedical and mechanical engineer Lyle Hood, Ph.D., is passionate about using engineering tools to improve the lives of patients.

"Having better solutions to cure these degenerative, wasting diseases where somebody is going to die but they’re not going to die well, is absolutely a central passion of mine," Hood said.

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Lyle Hood, Ph.D., oversees work in his lab at UTSA.


The University of Texas at San Antonio professor is hard at work with others in his lab developing a tiny capsule. The idea is to use the capsule to place medications precisely where they need to go in a non-invasive way. The drug delivery device can be placed precisely through a needle.

"This device is a cylinder," Hood explained. "It’s three millimeters long and one millimeter in diameter so it’s basically the head of your pen."

For cancer patients, this could be a new way to delivery immunotherapy drugs, the kind that recruit the immune system to recognize cancer cells as a threat and eradicate them. Right now, immunotherapy has to be injected and the body clears it quickly.

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Engineers are working with a 3D printer to make a polymer version of the drug delivery capsule.



The system Hood is working on would act like a reservoir, providing a regulated release of therapy over time, weeks and perhaps even months.

"The kind of secret sauce of this device that makes it special, it’s a nanochannel membrane," Hood stated.

Nanochannels are tiny holes etched in a silicon chip…thousands of holes per square centimeter. With varying numbers and sizes, engineers can control the diffusion, tailoring the device to each drug, controlling rates and dosages.

The first incarnation of the capsule was metal. Now, though, Hood and his team are developing a biodegradable version.

Using a 3D printer, engineers will be able to fabricate versions of the capsule that will dissolve in the body.

"We are working on developing a device that is implantable through a needle, approximately the same size, but is going to be made entirely of polymer, will release drugs over a couple of weeks, but will biodegrade over a couple of months and just go away," Hood said.

The 3D printer is being used to create a biodegradable version of the drug delivery capsule.


Patients may be able to simply swallow the biodegradable version. Right now, the technology has been tried in rats and mice, but tests on people are expected in the next few years.

UTSA doctoral student Forhad Akhder is excited about this cutting-edge project.

"We are actually trying to invest a new thing," Akhder emphasized. "Actually we are looking for a solution that can save lots of people’s lives."

​The applications could be far-reaching, including the delivery of cortisone to damaged joints so patients don't have to endure frequent, painful injections.

​An article featuring Hood's work was recently published in the Journal of Biomedical Nanotechnology.