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Microchip could replace medicine

AMERICAN SCIENTISTS are developing a "smart" tablet - a microchip packed with drugs rather than data - to replace painful injections, bulky pills and foul-tasting medicines.

It might even lead to "smell-o-vision": the chip could be instructed, via a television signal, to release particular scents.

Scientists say the "pharmacy on a chip" could be swallowed or implanted under the skin, and programmed to release minute amounts of drugs at precisely defined times.

The system, being developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, could be a reality within years. "It's a drug delivery system but it could be used for anything," said Dr Robert Langer, one of the three-man team that has already got two patents on its work. The prototype could one day be used to deliver pain relief or cancer drugs, in medical diagnostic tests, or in any capacity to deliver one or more chemical compounds in specific amounts at specified times.

The chemical compounds emitted would not be limited to drugs: jewellery could give off scents, while a television-linked one might offer salt- air smells when pictures of oceans appear and floral aromas for gardens.

"This is the kind of prototype that may one day make those things possible," Dr Langer, a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, told the journal Nature.