“Edible” and “battery” are two words that traditionally don’t make a lot of sense together. Neither do “smart” and “pill”. This is set to change in the coming years.
We all know the human body is extraordinarily complicated. When it comes to taking medicine, your doctor can give you a strong educated guess at what dosage you need, but what if it clashes with another condition? What if you simply forget to take it on time?
Smart pills could revolutionise medicine. It could sense problems on its own, choosing and releasing only the medicine your body needs to fight it.
Worried about taking it on time? It could send a signal to your doctor as soon as it detects your stomach acids, ensuring your records are accurate. It could even withhold its contents, releasing only the amount your body needs.
According to Singularity Hub, common treatments for osteoporosis and arthritis would no longer need to be injected; a smart device could simply wait until it’s passed through the stomach before releasing its contents.
While the ideas are all solid, one core problem has yet to be cracked: making them safe to swallow.
Researchers are now working hard to find safe ways the body can digest complicated electronics, allowing them to disintegrate or pass through without the body wanting to fight back.
Writing for Trends in Biotechnology, Christopher Bettinger, a professor in materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, made a strong case for pushing forward with this research.
“The breakfast you ate this morning is only in your GI tract for about 20 hours,” said Professor Bettinger. “All you need is a battery that can do its job for 20 hours and then, if anything happens, it can just degrade away”.
“The primary risk is the intrinsic toxicity of these materials – for example, if the battery gets mechanically lodged in the gastrointestinal tract – but that’s a known risk. In fact, there is very little unknown risk in these kinds of devices”.
One of the main reasons medications today are so expensive is that only a small portion of the pill actually makes it where it needs to be in the body. Professor Bettinger says that a smart pill, ensuring the medicine goes exactly where needed, could ultimately be more cost effective in the long run, as it would require less of the medication itself.
“There are many rapid advances in materials, inventions, and discoveries that can be brought to bear on medical problems,” says Professor Bettinger.
“If we can engineer devices that get the most mileage out of existing drugs, then that is a very attractive value proposition. I believe these devices can be tested in patients within the next 5-10 years”.
Would you like to see this technology made a reality? Would you be willing to swallow a smart pill?