Delivering medication through your teeth – Israeli team leads the way

By placing the Intellidrug in the mouth, the medication can be delivered directly into the bloodstream through the lining of the cheek and around the mouth, a surface that is porous enough to absorb the medicine.Are you one of those …

By placing the Intellidrug in the mouth, the medication can be delivered directly into the bloodstream through the lining of the cheek and around the mouth, a surface that is porous enough to absorb the medicine.Are you one of those people that tend to be a little lax with their prescription drugs? You may start off taking it as prescribed, but sooner rather than later, you may skip a turn, then another, and soon the whole schedule is out of whack.

You’re not alone, as studies have shown that patients, on average, follow instructions on taking their medication only half the time – even if the drug is required for survival. That’s why the European Union is backing an international project based on an Israeli innovation – a drug dispensing system that works via a device inserted in the patient’s tooth.

The system – called the Intellidrug – releases a specific amount of medicine at certain intervals, ensuring that the patient gets the proper dosage at the right time according to its inventor Dr. Andy Wolff, the CEO of Saliwell Ltd. The Israeli company has already developed a removable device called the GenNarino that treats the condition called ‘dry mouth’ by stimulating saliva production through electro-stimulation.

“The Intellidrug is an idea that derived from our work at Saliwell,” Wolff told ISRAEL21c. “We had implemented the idea of microelectronics in the oral cavity – a form of software communication. And in looking for other applications, the next step was to come up with a drug delivery device. We saw that there was a need for controlled drug delivery – really controlled, not roughly controlled. The chemical pharmaceutical method is never as accurate as software which precisely controls how much medication is delivered.

Supported by the EU’s 6th Framework Program (Information Society Technologies) that promotes cooperation between EU nations and Israel, the Intellidrug is aimed at developing an electronically controlled, intraoral drug delivery system that will provide an alternative approach to the treatment of addiction and chronic diseases.

“We submitted a proposal to the program and were chosen,” said Wolff. “But you always have to build a consortium. You can’t have an individual organization receive the grant, there has to be at least three different organizations represented.”

Wolff recruited partners and today is managing a consortium of 14 other companies and organizations involved in the development of the device, including universities, research institutes, hospitals and companies such as German microelectronics institute HSG-IMIT, and Spanish telephone company Telefonica SA.

“This is a pioneering project because one – we’re combining dentistry with software, communication, technology and electronics, and two, we’re placing the resultant device in the oral cavity,” Wolff told ISRAEL21c.

How does the Intellidrug device work? By placing the device in the mouth, the drug can be delivered directly into the bloodstream through the lining of the cheek and around the mouth, a surface that is porous enough to absorb the medicine. The released medicine is either swallowed by the patient or mixes with his saliva which consistently carries into the lining.

Among the multitude of conditions that the Intellidrug could provide treatment for, Wolff cites diabetes patients who must now take regular injections of insulin to maintain low blood-glucose levels. Instead of pricking their skin, patients can insert the Intellidrug device for consistent insulin release that penetrates through the mouth’s porous lining.

“The mouth is very accessible, it’s very permeable, not like your skin,” Wolff told Associated Press.

Wolff, a dentist and specialist in oral medicine, has authored more than 40 articles and book chapters on oral and general health issues. In addition to running Saliwell, he is currently the head of the Hospital Dentistry Department in Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv with a staff of 70 people.

The Intellidrug device is currently the size of about two teeth and consists of a unit containing a pump and valves, a microprocessor, batteries, and a reservoir for the drug pill. Wolff explained that it’s attached to the side of the teeth alongside the cheek, but the consortium is working to miniaturize the system so that it can be used as a replacement tooth. The unit can be removed for drug refill and battery replacement when needed.

Wolff said that clinical trials on pigs had been successful, and as soon as the prototype is smaller, the consortium will begin trials on humans – quite an accomplishment for three years of work.

“The project was launched in January 2004 – and we recently asked for another half year. And by then, we think we’ll be ready to begin the trials,” said Wolff.

In the future, the team plans to utilize a communication port on the Intellidrug that will allow the user to control the device via remote control – or even more ambitiously – to link the device via a cell phone to the patient’s doctor.