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FDA approves 'intelligent' pill that reports back to doctors

Thursday - 8/2/2012, 8:12am  ET

pills.jpg
Pills housing tiny microchips are able to monitor a patient's use of medications. (Courtesy of Proteus Biomedical)

Randi Martin, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Digital medication may be the new remedy for those who often forget to take daily medication.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved digestible microchips. The chips could change how doctors prescribe medication in the future.

The chips, which resemble ordinary pills, will have embedded sensors that transmit information to the patient's doctor, alerting him that the medicine has been ingested.

While some may be wary of ingesting a sensor, its size may help calm a patient's fears, reports Nature.com. The sensor is the size of a sand-particle. The silicon chip contains trace amounts of magnesium and copper, according to the drug maker.

When swallowed, the chip generates a "slight voltage in response to digestive juices," which sends a signal to the surface of the patient's skin, according to the company's information on the pill. A patch on the patient's skin then relays the transmitted information to his doctor's mobile phone.

The patch also monitors the patient's heart rate, respiration and temperature, relaying real data of how he is responding to the medication. The patient can get this information sent to a mobile telephone so he knows the information their doctor is getting.

"The point is not for doctors to castigate people, but to understand how people are responding to their treatments," says George Savage, co-founder and chief medical officer of the Proteus Biomedical as reported by Nature.com.

"This way doctors can prescribe a different dose or a different medicine if they learn that it's not being taken appropriately."

The chip also tracks what the patient eats and when, all of which is reported to his doctor as well. Patients with a chronic illness and the elderly will likely be top candidates for these digital pills, according to Savage.

The FDA approval is based on studies showing the pill's safety and efficacy. But it has only passed the device as it performed while implanted in placebo pills. The manufacturer, Proteus Digital Health, hopes to get approval on the device working with drugs in the future.

Proponents of digital medical devices predict this and future medical innovations will provide alternatives to doctor visits, blood tests, MRIs and CAT scans.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)