News blog

Digital pills make their way to market

Digestible microchips embedded in drugs may soon tell doctors whether a patient is taking their medications as prescribed.  These sensors are the first ingestible devices approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To some, they signify the beginning of an era in digital medicine.

“About half of all people don’t take medications like they’re supposed to,” says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla,California. “This device could be a solution to that problem, so that doctors can know when to rev up a patient’s medication adherence.” Topol is not affiliated with the company that manufactures the device, Proteus Digital Health in Redwood City,California, but he embraces the sensor’s futuristic appeal, saying, “It’s like big brother watching you take your medicine.”

The sand-particle sized sensor consists of a minute silicon chip containing trace amounts of magnesium and copper. When swallowed, it generates a slight voltage in response to digestive juices, which conveys a signal to the surface of a person’s skin where a patch then relays the information to a mobile phone belonging to a healthcare-provider.

Currently, the FDA, and the analogous regulatory agency in Europe have only approved the device based on studies showing its safety and efficacy when implanted in placebo pills. But Proteus hopes to have the device approved within other drugs in the near future. Medicines that must be taken for years, such as those for drug resistant tuberculosis, diabetes, and for the elderly with chronic diseases, are top candidates, says George Savage, co-founder and chief medical officer at the company.

“The point is not for doctors to castigate people, but to understand how people are responding to their treatments,” Savage says. “This way doctors can prescribe a different dose or a different medicine if they learn that it’s not being taken appropriately.”

Proponents of digital medical devices predict that they will provide alternatives to doctor visits, blood tests, MRIs and CAT scans. Other gadgets in the pipeline include implantable devices that wirelessly inject drugs at pre-specified times, and sensors that deliver a person’s electrocardiogram to their smartphone.

In his book published in January, The Creative Destruction of Medicine, Topol says that the 2010s will be known as the era of digital medical devices. “There are so many of these new technologies coming along,” Topol says, “it’s going to be a new frontier for rendering care.”


  1. Report this comment

    Ashley Taylor said:

    How much would these microchips raise the cost of a pill? Any estimate? Does anyone think this is a bad idea? Just curious.

    1. Report this comment

      ron johnson said:

      if this can happen what is preventing the ingestion of nano sized devices in the general food supply?

      what if i told you the world has become technologically metaphysical to the point that the plastics we use are derived from a soup of basically liquified animals that we process and then we call it oil and then we take this plastic and turn it into a prison for the water that was once free, for example.

      things end up looking quite differently from that perspective doesnt it.

      find out more by following this video series:

      1. Report this comment

        Jeremy Lane said:

        This is purely ignorant. Whether or not an individual takes their medicine as prescribed, its THEIR OWN damn responsibility. This is not an advancement in technology…microchips have been in the governmental shadows for quite some time and are inside many people right now. Only difference? In this case, the subject is aware and accepting of it. This shit is definately not in a person’s best interest.

    2. Report this comment

      Inhim Iam said:

      A bad idea puts it mildly! First, who knows down the road what side effects this will have. But again, that is not the main problem. What gives them the right to monitor us as though we are their children? I have been given meds by doctors that I would never take or ones that I took and felt horrid on and stopped. I don’t need someone else to tell ME how I feel. To be quite honest, this will stop me from even going to a doctor when they begin chipping people and making us swallow them. Disgusting. They are control freaks bent on killing us all.

  2. Report this comment

    Kevin Clauson said:

    We have been following this type of system for awhile and I think there are a couple things worth considering. First, this tech can also be used collaboratively by the patient along with the physician/pharmacist/etc. This particular system can be linked to a smartphone app with which the patient can track when they miss doses, self-track for patterns of those instances, and actually become more empowered as a partner in developing solutions. Second, there is published data on the safety aspects as well (For example: Early Clinical Experience With Networked System for Promoting Patient Self-Management: I am encouraged by the way the work was framed in that paper, in terms of enhancing self-management. While It is admittedly tough to cover all aspects in a short piece like this, I look forward to the more in-depth story mentioned.

  3. Report this comment

    amalina munira said:

    can the poor afford to use this type of technology?

Comments are closed.