AI can make implants last longer inside the human body

AI helps implants work better, preventing diseases before they happen despite immune system challenges.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
Professor Garry Duffy and Dr. Rachel Beatty showing the AI-enabled soft robotic implant.
Professor Garry Duffy and Dr. Rachel Beatty showing the AI-enabled soft robotic implant.

Martina Regan

Imagine your body had an implant that could continuously monitor the occurrence of diseases and infections and immediately release medications to prevent them. Wouldn’t that be ideal, especially for patients who suffer from conditions like heart failure, diabetes, and asthma?

You’d be surprised to know that such implants do exist, but the human body doesn’t allow them to work. Our immune system recognizes such devices as foreign substances. 

So whenever doctors install an implant inside a patient’s body, after some time, scar tissues surround the device, disrupting its functions and eventually causing it to fail. However, a new study suggests that AI can help body implants escape scar tissues and do their work.

A team of researchers from MIT and the Ireland-based University of Galway has developed an AI-enabled soft robotic implant that can sense scar tissue development around it and change its shape accordingly to deliver drugs without any disruption.    

AI makes implants work amidst fibrosis

The researchers tested soft robotic implants previously tool, but those devices were not able to sense the changes in the tissue environment around them. 

“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,” said co-author Ellen Roche, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, in a press release.

They added several unique features to the current implant design to achieve this. For instance, the device follows a principle called mechanotherapy that enables it to repetitively inflate and deflate. 

According to the researchers, such movements prevent scar tissue buildup around the implant. The new design also consists of a conductive porous membrane that senses scar tissue buildup in advance when tissues begin blocking its pores.  

However, there is no way the implant can evade scar tissues indefinitely. So to prevent the device from failing, they developed an AI program that can predict the right amount of medicine and the force with which it should be delivered such that the implant continues to supply medication, regardless of the extent of scar tissue buildup.

Nevertheless, they also ran computer simulations to see how the AI-enabled implant works against fibrotic capsules of varying thickness.

“The device worked out the best regime to release a consistent dose, by itself, even when significant fibrosis was simulated,” said co-author Garry Duffy, a professor of regenerative medicine at the University of Galway.

“We showed a worst-case scenario of very thick and dense scar tissue around the device, and it overcame this by changing how it pumps to deliver medication. We could finely control the drug release in a computational model and on the bench using soft robotics, regardless of significant fibrosis,” he added.

AI-enabled implants can revolutionize healthcare 

Body implants can treat health problems ranging from body pain to addiction and even paralysis, but until now, they have been limited by fibrosis. The current study reveals an unprecedented solution to the problem and suggests that AI has the potential to make body implants a mainstream healthcare technology.

However, further research is required to confirm whether or not such AI implants are 100 percent safe for human use. For instance, excessive scar tissue formation resulting from the movement of such a device might lead to prolonged inflammation, pain, and various other complications in the affected body parts. 

The study authors also believe that AI-enabled implants may take some time to become a viable and reliable treatment option, but sooner or later, our healthcare system may witness the rise of a new generation of self-adapting body implants.

These AI-enabled devices will perform intelligent and unhindered drug delivery, possibly transform the lives of patients, and make our healthcare system more efficient than ever.

The study was published in the journal Science Robotics on August 30 and can be found here.

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