FDA-approved ‘digital pill’ small step in medical monitoring

Millions of prescriptions are taken every morning in this country and plenty are forgotten in the dash out the door. Now, the Food and Drug Administration has approved an ingestible sensor that will tell your doctor on you.

The biotech company Proteus Digital Health created a sand-particle sized silicon chip that can be placed into any pill, although it is currently only approved for placebos. The sensor’s traces of copper and magnesium power the chip with the help of just your body. The sensor sends a signal to a smartphone app via a patch on the patient’s stomach.

The intent is to allow doctors to monitor how well a patient is responding to treatment and if the medications or the dosages need adjusting. It can also detect your heart rate, body position and physical activity. The sensor is only strong enough to last about 24 hours although the company is in the works of making chips that only need to be taken once and can forever stick to your stomach walls. The question is: How useful is this new sensor in a pill if you forget to take it? In that case, your doctor just learns that you’re forgetful.

From what we know now, the dangers seem slim to none. The data collected is nothing too personal that could do damage if in the wrong hands. The chip disintegrates without harming the patient. The information could save your life. The company’s chief executive Andrew Thompson told Nature.com the chip has been tested with treatments for diabetes, heart failure, hypertension and mental health. That range of illnesses already gives you a glimpse of what the future of medical care could be.

This is a first step for biotech but not a finished plan. Future products may be able to gather more information and last longer in the body.

We are headed for a life monitored from every angle and that could both protect us from dangers and strip privacy away. But for right now, you’re fairly safe with a placebo that texts your heart rate to your doctor.

@ Newsday — Long Island, N.Y.


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