New Drug Tablets Send Messages When Swallowed

Friday, April 2, 2010
Researchers from University of Florida have developed a technology which can be embedded into drug tablets to notify clinicians and caretakers that a pill has been ingested.
One part is the pill, a standard white capsule coated with a label embossed with silvery lines. The lines comprise the antenna, which is printed using ink made of nontoxic, conductive silver nanoparticles. The pill also contains a tiny microchip, one about the size of a dot.

 When a patient takes the pill, it communicates with the second main element of the system: a small electronic device carried or worn by the patient – for now, a stand-alone device. The device then signals a cell phone or laptop that the pill has been ingested, in turn informing doctors or family members.

Bashirullah [Rizwan Bashirullah, UF assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering] said the pill needs no battery because the device sends it power via imperceptible bursts of extremely low-voltage electricity. The bursts energize the microchip to send signals relayed via the antenna. Eventually the patient’s stomach acid breaks down the antenna – the microchip is passed through the gastrointestinal tract — but not before the pill confirms its own ingestion.

The team has successfully tested the pill system in artificial human models, as well as cadavers. Researchers have also simulated stomach acids to break down the antenna to learn what traces it leaves behind. Bashirullah said those tests had determined the amount of silver retained in the body is tiny, less than what people often receive from common tap water.