Proteus Digital Health announced earlier this summer that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved its “ingestible sensor," the Ingestion Event Marker (IEM). Proteus can build the IEM into a pill that, once swallowed by a patient, will work with the body’s chemistry to collect and transmit data directly to the doctor.
Popular Science described the sensors as “sand-particle-sized silicon chips” made with small amounts of magnesium and copper -- a composition that makes them “generate voltage” when they come in contact with digestive juices. The charge signals a skin patch that, in turn, transmits the information to a practitioner’s mobile device. The doctor knows the time at which the patient took the pill, which is particularly important when monitoring patients who must remember to take medications at specific times. The system also can alert the patient or a family member with a text message. Here's a quick video on how it works:
Nature Magazine quoted Dr. Eric Topol, professor at The Scripps Research Institute, as saying, “About half of all people don’t take medications like they’re supposed to.” With dosage information automatically transmitted, doctors, nurses, or anyone responsible for the care of another can know when the individual isn’t adhering to medical instructions and can head off a dosage problem.
While Topol is not affiliated with Proteus, the company does draw on his authority. In the press release, he stated, “Directly digitizing pills, for the first time, in conjunction with our wireless infrastructure, may prove to be the new standard for influencing medication adherence and significantly aid chronic disease management.”
As of now, as PopSci reported, the FDA’s approval extends only to pills that don't contain any actual medication. If the placebos prove that the system works with no risk to patients, it may extend the approval to active medications. In real medications, the device could prove particularly helpful for transplant patients on a strict regimen of medication they need to adhere to in order to suppress their immune systems, as well as for those who have to manage diabetes and mental illness.
Besides relaying time of medication, the sensors could one day possibly deliver a variety of other data collected from the body. For example, a sensor could pick up on the level of activity and monitor the body’s heart rate. The information could give a complete and accurate picture about an individual's habits. Rather than rely on the person’s own recollection or jotted notes, the physician could get the information in real-time and make recommendations based on accurate data.
Ingestible sensor technology and internal data collection certainly have their upsides, but some people also see a dark side to Big Brother-type surveillance on people’s bodies. Which point of view is yours?