Pills with a mind of their own

Amber Dance, Special to the Los Angeles Times: "Did you take your medicine today?" Soon, patients won't have to rely on their memories for the answer. Scientists are developing tablets and capsules that track when they've been popped, turning the humble pill into a high-tech monitoring machine.

 The goal: new devices to help people take their meds on time and improve the results coming out of clinical trials for new drugs.

 Doctors can already prescribe pills that release drugs slowly or at a specific time." "They even have camera pills that take snaps of their 20- to 40-foot journey through the gastrointestinal tract. The new pills tote microchips that make them even cleverer: They will report back to a recorder or smart phone exactly what kind and how much medicine has gone down the hatch and landed in the stomach. Someday they may also report on heart rate and other bodily data.

This next generation of pills is all about compliance, as it's termed in doctor-speak — the tendency of patients to follow their doctors' instructions (or not). According to the World Health Organization, half of patients don't take their pills properly. We skip doses, take the wrong amount at the wrong time or simply ignore prescriptions altogether. In a 2006 survey of 1,000 people by two pharmacist associations, three-quarters of those queried admitted to occasional noncompliance.

Medication misuse can lead to hospitalizations and deaths. Those preventable events cost the healthcare system $100 billion to $300 billion annually, according to a 2009 report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

 The most common reason for medication mistakes is forgetfulness, particularly among the elderly — just the age group, of course, that has to manage multiple medications..... "

The system works by radio-frequency identification, or RFID. You experience RFID every time you exit a large store: The pair of pillars you pass through on the way out converse with RFID chips on the products you're carrying to confirm you did indeed pay for them.

In the case of MagneTrace, three magnets on a choker-type necklace act like those pillars, continually surveying the neck. The pill contains an RFID chip to communicate with the magnets. When Ghovanloo tested the system in an artificial neck made of PVC pipe, the necklace detected 94% of pills passing through it. He hopes to get that number up to 99% and is adding a microchip that will also transmit information about the specific drug taken and its dose.

 Ghovanloo coats the chips with a non-reactive material so that after the medicine dissolves, the hardware simply passes through and out of the digestive tract. He has tested the tracer chips in a hound dog, and they were harmless. 

However, before trying the system in people, Ghovanloo says he needs make the design more fashionable. "Right now, it's not something that a lady would be willing to wear," he says. For men, he might embed the device in a shirt collar.

... "The important thing is that it's under the patient's control," Ghovanloo says. "I would compare it with the information you put on your Facebook — you can limit it to just your friends, or you can have it for the world to see."

Bashirullah notes that the pills aren't so different from well-accepted electronic implants such as pacemakers and other stimulators that transmit data such as heart rate.

So open wide and swallow your meds. The smart pills of the future will know if you don't." (read further)