Implantable devices have proven useful for a range of health conditions. For example, pacemakers, implantable insulin pumps, and even hip implants have revolutionized the care for conditions like heart rhythm disorders and diabetes. Some devices even offer promising new avenues of therapy for conditions that are hard to treat or manage, such as the use of stimulators for people with spinal injuries.
One of the main challenges for implantable devices, however, is how the body reacts to having one. And this response is usually not favorable. It is, after all, the basic job of the immune system to attack anything that does not appear to belong in the body. In fact, some estimates suggest that almost half of all healthcare-related infections may be caused by an implanted device. Through an inevitable process called “foreign body reaction,” cells in the immune system attack the device, causing a buildup of scar tissue around the device that prevents it from working.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge are turning to an antiinflammatory drug that may help reduce the risk of foreign body reaction in implant patients. Their work is published in a recent issue of PNAS.
Specifically, researchers coated an implanted device used for sciatic nerve damage with a molecule called MCC950. Previously, the team had placed the devices in mice to study how they reacted and to understand the underlying cause of foreign body reaction. They found that a very particular molecule, NLRP3, played a crucial role in triggering a foreign body reaction.
Prior research suggested that MCC950 could inhibit NLRP3, in theory preventing a negative reaction to an implanted device. Findings from the study found that MCC950 could prevent foreign body reaction without affecting the body’s ability to regenerate tissue. Current treatment options for foreign body reaction, including anti-inflammation medication like dexamethasone, can prevent severe reactions but also block regenerative abilities.
The next step is to study this new inflammatory drug in clinical trials, which could significantly improve outcomes for people who rely on implanted devices.