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Stanford Medicine

Applied Biotechnology

Outfitting pills with microchips to monitor patients’ medication use

We’ve previously written about efforts to develop sensor-enabled pills designed to act as inside informants and report back to physicians about patient compliance in taking their prescribed medications. In response to the recent news that Redwood City-based Proteus Biomedical is partnering with LloydsPharmacy, a drugstore chain in the United Kingdom, to introduce so-called “intelligent medications,” Nature takes a closer look at how such pills function inside the body. Daniel Cressey writes:

They are activated by stomach acid and are powered much like ‘potato batteries’, in which two different metals generate a current when inserted into the vegetable.

Each sensor contains a tiny amount of copper and magnesium, says [Andrew Thompson, chief executive of Proteus]. “If you swallow one of these devices, you are the potato that creates a voltage, and we use that to power the device that creates the signal”.

The digital signal, he adds, cannot be detected except by a device that attaches to the patient’s skin, much like a bandage. This device also monitors heart rate, respiration and temperature, showing how the patient responds to the medication. These data can then be relayed to a patient’s mobile telephone and shared with whomever the patient chooses.

Previously: A pill that spills the beans and A pill that polices patients
Photo by Brandon Giesbrecht

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