John Pugh: Will Ingestible Micro Computers Be The Doctors Of The Future?

The new smart pill from Proteus Digital Health is a fully functional mini chip people can take with a glass of water.

Imagine if on your next doctors visit, instead of going through all the examinations, your doctor simply handed you a pill and sent you on your way. They may look like normal pills, oblong and a little smaller than a daily vitamin, however they are in fact fully functional ingestible computers, which travel your system and transmit back data. It sounds like something straight out of science fiction, but is it really that far off?

Proteus Digital Health of Redwood City, California, has created a ‘smart pill’ system that helps patients and caregivers monitor dosages. Inside these pills are tiny sensors and transmitters. After swallowing them, the devices make their way to the stomach and then through the intestinal tract. The pill contains a sensor that interacts with stomach fluid and sends a signal to a patch on the torso. The patch transmits information about the type of pill and when it was ingested to a nearby smartphone, along with physiological data, including heart rate and activity level. Patients can access the information on a mobile app and share it with others.

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The pills themselves do not require a battery, as the body itself is the power source. Just as a potato can power a light bulb, Proteus has added magnesium and copper on each side of its tiny sensor, which generates just enough electricity from stomach acids. As the computer sits in the stomach, it can monitor the medication-intake of the patient, as well as other data such as heart rate and temperature.

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The technology behind these pills could help patients monitor and treat a wide range of problems. People with heart failure-related difficulties could monitor blood flow and body temperature; those with central nervous system issues, including schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, could take the pills to monitor vital signs in real time. Furthermore, the technology gives doctors a direct and simple way to get a closer look at the inner workings of their patients.

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