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For people who are down with such illnesses as cancer, inflammatory disease, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease, that would need implantation of electronic devices into their bodies for a long time to aid their treatment, the procedure has always proved ineffective as the body tends to see these implants as foreign bodies, and would consequently initiate an inflammatory response to combat them, until they are removed.
This has been the major problem with implantation, because patients who would need this procedure for a long period as part of their treatment, only get to receive it for a short while due to the inflammatory response generated by the body after the implantation process. Doctors and scientists have been working to find a way around this problem, and this has led to several studies, all in a bid to come up with a solution.
What happens during implantation?
The issue associated with implantation stems from the fact that the body’s cells see the implants as foreign bodies, therefore the same events that occur with normal foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria are replicated – immune cells (macrophages) attack the device and try to destroy it. This, in turn, causes a capsule highly rich in collagen to build up around the surrounding tissue where the device is located – these events continue until the device is removed from the body.
Stop the implantation procedure or not?
Implantation seems to be the hope for medical conditions, such as injury to the spinal cord, that are difficult to treat, because they cause electrical stimulation of the nervous system which is important for the treatment of such conditions. Therefore, the procedure cannot be stopped, instead, research are been carried out to uncover a way forward, and luckily a research team led by scientists at the University of Cambridge has discovered an important fact to help combat this problem.
The hopeful discovery
The team carried out the study using mice as specimens, and at the end of the study, they found out this inflammatory response of the body can be stopped by inserting an anti-inflammatory drug into the coating of silicone around the implant. However, they noted also that using the usual anti-inflammatory drug – dexamethasone – did not help as it not only stops the inflammatory response but also obstructs the repair process.
To overcome this, they carried out a test on the specimens to find a better drug for the procedure: they divided the mice into two groups, each group having another group that served as a control for the experiment. To the first group of mice (having sciatic nerve damage), they implanted an electrical device to aid the treatment of their condition, while the control group did not receive any implantation. To the second group, they eliminated the genes responsible for the body’s reaction to inflammatory response, while the control group still had the genes intact. Doing these allowed them to understand how the inflammatory response initiated the foreign body reaction, and to identify which genes were responsible for it.
At the end of the test, they discovered that a molecule called NLRP3 plays an important role in the process. They then introduced another molecule – MCC950 – which they know to be an inhibitor of the former, and this helped improve the procedure. They found out that MCC950 worked well to not only prevent the foreign body reaction but also to not hinder the repair process, in contrast to dexamethasone. They concluded that this molecule is a better choice of an anti-inflammatory drug to be inserted into the silicone coating around the device. They are currently working to improve this molecule to make it safe for use in humans.
This study is important as it unravels the mystery behind the body’s rejection of electrical devices which are implanted as part of the treatment procedure for medical conditions such as cancer and inflammatory diseases, which require the implantation of these devices for a long time.
The use of implants to cure some intractable medical conditions can now be possible, without the fear of the body’s rejection of such devices after a short while.