Monitoring of your medicine intake will soon be easier if the FDA approves the new ePill, or edible sensor, from Proteus Digital Health.
The title of this article is not misleading or even exaggerated. Described technically, this is about an ingestible sensor that transmits information from a stomach to a phone app. That’s right, you eat the sensors, which are about the size of a grain of sand, and they communicate to a device worn on the belly, which communicates to a telephone.
The manufacturer of these Edible Sensors, opting health, sought and received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for their new technology. Here’s how it works:
The tiny sensor devices are typically embedded in a pill. Once the pill reaches the stomach, the covering dissolves and releases the sensors. The acid found in the stomach powers the Edible Sensors when it converts chemically to energy.
This is very much like the ‘potato battery’ you might have seen in a science class, where a couple of needles stuck in a wet potato can power a light bulb.
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In this case, the Edible Sensors are coated with a layer of magnesium and a layer of copper, which when exposed to the liquid in the stomach, produce electricity.
Each sensor is ‘programmed’ to respond to a particular chemical (or group of chemicals). Programming in this sense is not like a programming a computer so you can play games with your wow gaming mouse or visit your favorite guides for overwatch site, but the way its chemical composition is organized. The chemistry of the sensor changes when it contacts a designated chemical in the stomach. That, in turn, produces a signal for a tiny microchip embedded in the sensor.
The microchip has the electronics to produce a detectable transmission picked up by a receiver worn on the outside of the stomach area. The receiver collects the information from all the Edible Sensors in the stomach and along with other information about your body (temperature, activity, etc.) transmits the data on demand to a portable telephone.
The phone must be one of the newer models that run applications (an app), in this case, a specialized app for dialing a doctor’s office or clinic to download the information.
In short, this is a monitoring device. In this first use, it monitors the chemistry of drugs. Each sensor is set to detect the presence of a chemical found in prescription drugs – the ones a patient is supposed to take on a regular basis – and relays that information (or the lack of it) to a doctor.
That makes this type of sensor a medical snoop. At least that’s one way to look at it. The other way, which of course the manufacturer emphasizes, is this is a medical partner. It helps a patient take an appropriate level of important medication.
At the receiving end of the sensor, a doctor, clinician or nurse can look at the information and determine if the patient is getting the right dose – which also tells them whether the patient is taking the medicine on the prescribed schedule. Since about half the people with drug prescriptions don’t take them like they are supposed to, this medicine adherence monitoring can be an important part of effective treatment.
Older patients in particular have difficulty with a pill schedule, sometimes with serious consequences. This technology makes it possible to have professional guidance without requiring a trip to the doctor’s office or a clinic.
It’s obvious that this program is voluntary. The patient must consent to taking the sensor-laced pills, to wear the receiver device, and to the use of the phone for transmission. In general, the “ePill” needs to be taken along with the other medications, because similar to fiber in the diet, it passes quickly out of the digestive system.
This ePill is also an introduction to the world of microsensors / Edible Sensors, which in the next twenty years or so will become far more powerful, ubiquitous and controversial.