How Anti-Shoplifting Sensors Can Remind Us to Take Our Pills

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Clarissa Leahy

Pill boxes may be a thing of the past.

One of the major challenges to getting patients the care they need, according to many doctors, has to do with the patients themselves: they tend not to take their medication as prescribed. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, about 50% of us don’t take our pills at the right time, in the right amount or for the right reasons.

Now researchers are developing a ‘smart pill’ — a dissolvable, pill-like device that will record when it was swallowed and send the information to a cell phone or other electronic device. The inventive solution was just one that was profiled, along with its forward-thinking designer, Maysam Ghovanloo, an electrical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, by journalist Amber Dance in an article in the Los Angeles Times. (More on Healthland’s Top 10 Stories of 2010)

The innovative pill will ensure that people who must take their medication at exact intervals — including those with mental health conditions, or cancer patients on chemo — as well as their doctors know precisely when their pills hit their system. Theoretically, the electronic device would also alert the patient when it’s time for the next dose.

As Dance explains :

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.

Tests in humans may start as early as next year.

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