No joke: a pill to make you take your other pills

UF researchers have come up with a pill that reports when you've taken medication on time.

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 8:22 p.m.

Did you take your prescription medication today?

Thanks to some clever thinking by University of Florida engineering researchers, there may soon be a pill that reports back when you've taken it on time.

Call them "tattletale pills." And a prototype is already in testing.

The developers have adapted a standard pill capsule to include a tiny microchip and digestible antenna. When taken, the pill can alert the doctor or family members by "reporting back" to a small electronic device worn or carried by the patient.

"It's a way to monitor whether you're taking your medication in a timely manner," said Rizwan Bashirullah, UF assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering.

The American Heart Association calls patients' failure to follow prescription regimens "the number one problem in treating illness today." Many forget, refuse or bungle the job of taking their medication.

Studies have found, for example, that patients with chronic diseases normally take only about half of their prescribed medications. The Heart Association reports that one in 10 hospital admissions come as a result of patients not following prescription guidelines, and other studies have found that not taking medication properly results in 218,000 deaths each year.

Taking medications on time and as prescribed is also critically important in clinical trials, where failure to take the experimental drugs can skew the results and render them meaningless.

Bashirullah teamed up with UF doctoral student Hong Yu, materials science and engineering professor Chris Batich and Neil Euliano of Gainesville-based Convergent Engineering to develop the prototype pill.

It's a standard white capsule coated with a label embossed with silvery lines. The lines are the antenna, printed using ink made of nontoxic, conductive silver nanoparticles. The pill also contains a tiny microchip, about the size of this period.

"The vision has always been that you'd have an antenna that is biocompatible, and that essentially dissolves a little while after entering the body," Bashirullah explained.

The microchip sends signals via the antenna to the receiver worn by the patient, which then signals a cell phone or laptop that the pill has been taken.

The group has applied for a patent on their telltale pill, and a UF spinoff company looks to develop the next generation of the pill for FDA testing and commercial development.

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