Swallow This: New Electronic iPill Delivers Drugs On Command

By Nina Bai | November 12, 2008 6:38 pm

ipillA new intelligent pill designed by Philips, the Dutch electronics company, promises to deliver medicine in the right place, at the right time, inside your body. The company, best known for consumer products like webcams and wireless headphones, is packing some of the same technology into the new pill, known as the iPill. Containing a microprocessor, battery, wireless radio, pump and a reservoir for medication, the inch-long capsule is designed to treat digestive tract disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis [Times Online].

Once swallowed, the iPill allows researchers to keep track of its precise location through a wireless transmitter. It sends dispatches about the temperature and acidity of its surroundings to an outside receiver as it travels through the GI tract over the course of a day or two. The acidity, measured by pH, of the gut decreases as the pill gets further from the stomach, and that allows researchers to pinpoint the place where the drug is needed [San Francisco Chronicle]. Researchers can pre-program drug release when certain conditions are met or cue the drug release using a remote controller.

Similar robotic capsules with built-in cameras have been developed for colon endoscopy, but the iPill is the first to have drug delivering capabilities. Targeting drugs directly to the location of the disease means doses can be lower, reducing side effects, Philips said [Reuters].

For now, the iPill is still in prototype stage and the company plans to first market the pills to pharmaceutical companies for as much as $1,000 per pill. If the iPill becomes commonplace, the cost would go down significantly. If the iPill becomes, say, as ubiquitous as the iPod, Philips senior scientist Jeff Shimizu can think of one possible problem: Keeping the minute devices out of our water supply. To do so, sewage treatment plants might someday have to screen for iPills, he said. “If we’re selling millions of them, it could be an issue.” [San Francisco Chronicle].

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Image: Philips

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