Personalized Drug Treatment Enhanced by AI-Powered Soft Robotic Implant: Scar Tissue Monitoring and Self-Adaptation

Implantable medical device technologies promise to unlock advanced therapeutic interventions in healthcare, such as insulin release to treat diabetes. Still, patients’ reactions to foreign bodies are a significant issue holding back such devices.

Dr. Rachel Beatty, University of Galway, and co-lead author on the study explained: “The technology which we have developed, by using soft robotics, advances the potential of implantable devices to be in a patient’s body for extended periods, providing long-lasting therapeutic action. Imagine a therapeutic implant that can also sense its environment and respond as needed using AI — this approach could generate revolutionary changes in implantable drug delivery for a range of chronic diseases.”

The University of Galway-MIT research team originally developed first-generation flexible devices, known as soft robotic implants, to improve drug delivery and reduce fibrosis.

The latest research, published today in Science Robotics, demonstrates how they have significantly advanced the technology — using AI — making it responsive to the implant environment with the potential to be longer lasting by defending against the body’s natural urge to reject a foreign body.

The research team deployed an emerging technique to help reduce scar tissue formation known as mechanotherapy, where soft robotic implants make regular movements in the body, such as inflating and deflating. The timed, repetitive, or varied movements help to prevent scar tissue from forming.

The key to the advanced technology in the implantable device is a conductive porous membrane that can sense when pores are blocked by scar tissue. It detects the blockages as cells and the materials the cells produce block electrical signals traveling through the membrane.

The researchers measured electrical impedance and scar tissue formation on the membrane, finding a correlation. A machine learning algorithm was also developed and deployed to predict the required number and force of actuation to achieve consistent drug dosing, regardless of the level of fibrosis present. Using computer simulations, the researchers also explored the device’s potential to release medication over time with a surrounding fibrotic capsule of different thicknesses.

The research showed that changing the force and number of times the device was compelled to move or change shape allowed the device to release more drugs, helping to bypass scar tissue buildup.
Professor Ellen Roche, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, said: “If we can sense how the individual’s immune system is responding to an implanted therapeutic device and modify the dosing regime accordingly, it could have great potential in personalized, precision drug delivery, reducing off-target effects and ensuring the right amount of drug is delivered at the right time. The work presented here is a step towards that goal.”

Their medical device breakthrough may pave the way for entirely independent closed-loop implants that reduce fibrotic encapsulation, sense it over time, and intelligently adjust their drug release activity in response.

Professor Duffy added: “This is a new area of research that can have implications in other places and is not solely limited to treating diabetes. Our discovery could provide consistent and responsive dosing over long periods, without clinician involvement, enhancing efficacy and reducing the need for device replacement because of fibrosis.”

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