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New high tech system keeps track of pills

June 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you forget to do what your doctor tells you, you're not alone. But now, engineers have created a way to make sure you're following doctor's orders. Dr. R. Whit Curry, Jr., from University of Florida College of Medicine, has been prescribing pills for patients for years.

"It's a huge problem, of people not taking their pills," said Dr.Curry.

Government studies show 50 percent of people with chronic illnesses don't take their meds all the time. One example -- former President Bill Clinton -- who had heart surgery after he stopped taking drugs for high cholesterol.

University of Florida engineering professor Rizwan Bashirullah has a solution: A tiny micro-chip and antenna stuck to a standard pill capsule.

"I think the name that sort of caught on was 'antenna pill,'" said Bashirullah.

First swallow the non-toxic, chip-coated pill. Once the device hits your stomach, it sends a signal to a receiver - like a watch or a bracelet - which logs everything. This info is uploaded to a database that doctors can access.

"Having a fool-proof way to remind yourself would be, I think, a major advantage just for the average person out there," said Dr. Curry.

"What we envision this is to be applied to a capsule, very much in the same way you could print a label on a capsule," said Bashirullah.

Best of all, your sensitive information could stay between you and your physician, making rounds and treating patients easier.

The so-called "antenna pill" research has been tested in cadavers, with actual clinical trials upcoming. Right now, researchers say this technology could be applied to standard medication capsules for about $1 per pill.

Web Extra Information:

THE PROBLEM:

The American Heart Association calls patients' failure to follow prescription regimens "the number one problem in treating illness today." Studies have found, for example, that patients with chronic diseases normally take only half their prescribed medications. According to the American Heart Association, 10 percent of hospital admissions result from patients not following the guidelines on their prescriptions. Other studies have found that not taking medication properly results in 218,000 deaths annually.

THE SOLUTION:

The idea behind one new device is simple. Pills for consumption are outfitted with a tiny transmitter, while the person ingesting the pills wears a watch or bracelet that acts as a receiver. When the patient swallows the pill, the transmitter communicates with the receiver, signaling the pill has been consumed.

THE EQUIPMENT:

One part of the pill is a standard white capsule coated with a label embossed with silvery lines. The lines comprise the antenna, which is printed using ink made of non-toxic, conductive silver nanoparticles. The pill also contains a tiny microchip. When a patient takes the pill, it communicates with the second main element of the system, which is a small device carried or worn by the patient. The device (perhaps a cell phone, watch, or laptop) signals the pill has been ingested - in turn informing doctors or family members.

THE TRIALS:

Professor Rizwan Bashirullah's 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. The research team says the amount of silver left behind in the body is tiny, likely even less than the amount one person consumes while drinking tap water.

THE FUTURE:

The researchers who presented their findings at a conference in Japan last year are currently at work on a scholarly paper about their research. The research, itself, was funded by grants totaling about $70,000 from the National Science Foundation, Convergent Engineering and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.


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