Rethinking Healthcare

New pill with ingestible microchip monitors you from the inside

Posting in Technology

Once it's activated by your stomach acid, the tiny sensor sends out digital signals about things like heart rate and temperature to show how you're responding to prescribed medication.

Soon, patients will be able to buy smart pills that have tiny ingestible sensors that can help track their medication use. Um, the call is coming from inside the house?

Patients not taking their meds as prescribed cost the US $290 billion in increased medical costs.

And last week, Silicon Valley's Proteus Biomedical announced the launch of their ‘digital health product in the UK, in collaboration with pharmacy chain Lloydspharmacy.

“The most important and basic thing we can monitor is the actual physical use of the medicine,” says Andrew Thompson of Proteus Biomedical.

These ‘sensor-enabled tablets’ are called Helius, and they come with ‘ingestible event markers.’ These can be taken with pills or incorporated directly into medicines by the manufacturers. The sensors are embedded in a placebo to be taken alongside the actual meds.

  1. The sensors are activated by stomach acid, and as Nature News explains, they’re powered much like potato batteries (where 2 different metals generate a current when inserted into the tuber).
  2. Each sensor – about the size of a grain of sand – contains a tiny amount of copper and magnesium. When you swallow one of these devices, you become the potato that creates a voltage. That then is used to power the device, which creates a signal.
  3. The digital signal can’t be detected except by an adhesive patch attached to your skin, like a bandage.
  4. It monitors things like heart rate, respiration, temperature, body posture, and even sleeping patterns – to show how you’re responding to the medication.
  5. These data are then relayed to your cellphone to be shared with whomever you like. Your doctor might decide to change dosages or medication based on that info.

The cost of the monitoring service is slated to be £50 ($77) a month. Lloydspharmacy hopes to make the system available in September.

Proteus Biomedical is developing and commercializing a range of digital health care products with others in the industry, such as Novartis, Medtronic, ON Semiconductor, and Kaiser Permanente. The company has already tested the system in hundreds of patients in many different therapeutic areas: tuberculosis, mental health, heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes.

Via Nature News, IEEE Spectrum.

Image: Proteus Biomedical

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure