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New Pills Tell Doctor You Took Your Medication


Did you take your medication today? Failure to take medications prescribed by a doctor is a common problem that can result in serious or even deadly consequences. Researchers have now developed pills that can tell doctors, caregivers, and others when patients have taken their medication.

According to a report issued by the National Council for Patient Information and Education, poor patient compliance of medication use has reached a crisis stage in the United States and around the world, resulting in unnecessary progression of disease, health complications, poorer quality of life, and death. The report notes that only about half of American patients take their medication as prescribed, resulting in approximately $177 billion per year in health care costs. Given that this is a 2007 study, the costs are likely even higher today.

When you attach a tiny microchip and antenna to a pill capsule, you then have a way to monitor where that pill goes. That is what University of Florida researchers have done. They hope their prototype pill will result in mass-manufactured pills that will send signals to doctors, caregivers, and clinical drug trial scientists when the pills have been taken.

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The new capsules are coated with a label that contains an antenna composed of nontoxic, conductive silver nanoparticles. Each capsule also harbors a miniscule microchip that is about the size of a period. When the pill is ingested, it sends out a signal to a small electronic device that the patient carries on his or her body. That device then sends a signal to the cell phone or laptop of the patient’s doctor, loved ones, or others who are monitoring medication use.

Rizwan Bashirullah, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Florida, explains that not only is this an effective way to monitor whether individuals are taking their medications when they are supposed to, but that it also is a significant help in clinical trials. Patients’ failure to take experimental drugs during clinical trials is a big problem and can result in meaningless results.

The challenge now with these new pills, says Bashirulla is ”to use technology to do this in a more seamless, much less expensive way.” The pills are safe and do not require a battery, says Bashirullah, because the device worn by the patient sends power to the pill via extremely low-voltage electricity. Stomach acid eventually dissolves the antenna and the microchip passes through the digestive tract. The scientists have tested the new pills in artificial human models and in cadavers and have determined that the amount of silver left in the body is less than what people ingest from tap water.

The American Heart Association has called patient noncompliance with medication the “No 1 problem in treating illness today,” regardless of the age of the patient. Will we someday soon be taking pills that “tell on us” and let our doctors and loved ones know that we have taken our medication? The researchers have applied for patents, and a University of Florida spinoff company hopes to have a pill suitable for FDA testing and commercial development.

American Heart Association
National Council for Patient Information and Education
University of Florida news release, Mar. 31, 2010