Just a Spoonful of Sensors

February 18, 2020

Helps the medicine go down!

In 2017, the FDA approved the first pill with ingestible sensors, which tracks when or if patients have taken their medication. The accompanying app also lets patients track their mood and sleep. This data can be shared with doctors for remote monitoring and treatment plan adjustment.

Swallowing tiny electronics may seem strange, but the market for ingestible sensors is expected to grow. The main appeals of the technology include medication adherence, patient monitoring and efficient, non-invasive testing methods.

IoT for Remembering Your Medicine

A pilot program is underway testing the use of sensors in chemotherapy pills. Data collected by the sensor lets doctors know patients are taking the pills as directed. But the data also includes various health factors that can indicate if the prescribed dosage is making the patient too sick. This allows doctors to adjust the dosage as data is received rather than waiting for an in-office follow up weeks later.

Remote Monitoring of Patients

NASA first used ingestible sensors in 1998 to measure astronaut body temperature. The pill has since been used to monitor for heat exhaustion in professional athletes, soldiers and firefighters.

Similar ingestible sensors have been tested in pigs to monitor vital signs. As the pill travels through the entire digestive track, it records body temperature and heart and respiratory rate. The pill could be useful for gathering vitals on trauma patients. The pill could also monitor patients with heart problems without the need for bulky wearables.

Gathering Medical Data with IoT

A pill is undergoing clinical trials to diagnose gastrointestinal problems. The pill contains bacteria that react to blood – such as with a stomach bleed – and a sensor that detects the reaction and sends results to a mobile app. Receiving diagnosis via pill spares patients from undergoing an endoscopy, a procedure that requires sedation.

Also undergoing trials, a pill that detects gases in the gut is proving to be 3,000 times more accurate than traditional breath tests. Such precise measurements could lead to more effective treatment and diagnosis for patients with gastrointestinal disorders.

Another pill in development swells inside the stomach and gathers data for up to 30 days. Researchers believe the pill could be used to track ulcers, stomach cancers and other conditions. The pill could also be used as a less invasive alternative to gastric balloon surgery.

The Future of Ingestible Sensors

Still being conceptualized, researchers imagine liquid solutions teeming with microscopic sensors. After being consumed, the sensors would pass through a patient’s intestinal walls and into the blood stream where they would attach themselves to diseased cells from tumors or cancers. Data could then be collected about the disease, giving indicators on how the cells are progressing or responding to treatment.

However far off such medical advances may seem, the future of treating and managing diseases looks promising thanks to IoT technology.