The New World Of Digital Pills!

Dec 5, 2017 By Caitlin, Young Editor
iridescent's picture

Imagine taking a pill that then talks to your doctor to let them know it has reached the stomach...

One of medicine's newest technologies -- the digital pill -- can do just that!

The first digital medicine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Otsuka, the company that manufactures Abilify, partnered with Proteus Digital Health to create a system called Abilify MyCite. Patients can now keep track of when they are taking their pills and share that information with their doctors and other family members. 

Why Digital Pills?

One of the biggest problems with patients is that many don’t take their pills either because of side effects, forgetting to do so, or they misuse their medication. Often this leads to more frequent doctor visits which can get expensive or increased deaths.

With a digital system, doctors can track if patients are taking their pills regularly, and determine if treatments are actually working. If not, they can manage doses or switch to other medications that better suit the patient. Doctors can also guide patients in taking their medication correctly and encourage good habits. For the first time, doctor and patient are physically interconnected, and patients might be mentally supported as well.

In the past, scientists have attempted similar systems to remind patients to take their pills. One such example is a smart pill bottle. But ultimately, none were very effective. Without a sensor inside the body, it was difficult to confirm if the patient had actually taken the pill.

How Does The Pill Work?

The system includes Abilify pills, a patch worn on the abdomen, and the app and online portal.

Each pill contains a tiny sensor (1 x 1 x 0.3 millimeters), made of silicon, magnesium, and copper, called the Ingestible Event Marker (IEM). When the pill is swallowed and comes in contact with stomach acid, it will disintegrate until only the sensor remains.

The sensor will react with stomach acid to produce a single electric current that runs for three minutes. The signal is sent to the patch on the abdomen, and the data is transmitted to the app via Bluetooth. However, the company has warned that it may take up to 30 minutes to 2 hours for the update. When recorded, family members and doctors can access the data any time with the patient’s consent.

Is This The Future?

So far, the new system is available to patients with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. However, researchers are working on developing digital pills for more complicated medical treatments, such as diabetes and heart problems, where misuse is more common.

Currently, the patch can track the pill’s timestamp and patient’s activity levels. Scientists are looking to develop features to obtain more information such as a patient’s diet and body temperature. And for those worried about privacy, the company claims that the system is secure and hard to hack, and patients can withdraw shared data at any time.

One thing is clear - digital pills are here to stay with technology and medicine working side by side.

Sources: NYTimes, Livescience, FDA.gov, abilifymycite.com, otsuka-us.com