Electronic pills are the holy grail of healthcare technology. Ever since the first microelectronic pill was developed by Professor Jon Cooper and Dr. Erik Johanessen from Glasgow University in 1972, they’ve enjoyed unprecedented improvements. How does it work?
Basically, an electronic pill is a multichannel sensor use for remote biomedical measurements in the body. They can specifically deliver drugs to certain parts of the body to target different types of cancer, stimulate damaged tissues, track gastric problems, and measure biomarkers.
In order to carry out these functions, it is powered by a battery and equipped with the appropriate sensors. The battery is built to be edible yet it is expected to act as a conventional electronic battery. It is important that the materials used are not toxic to humans as it can cause significant complications if it gets into the digestive tract.
What are the current products on the market?
This electronic pill is a plastic capsule which is usually taken with solid food or water. Normally, it is meant to be transported through the digestive system in a natural manner. This is usually done within 24 hours and as this is done, the drug is dispensed to different parts of the body. The size is about that of a plump multivitamin and the drug can even carry out specialized actions based on the pH level of the patient.
IntelliCap capsule is rightly described as an electronic pill acting as a drug delivery and a monitoring device. It is made up of a drug reservoir, wireless communication systems, electronic controllers, sensors, and a delivery pump. It takes a very minuscule form and upon ingestion, it travels through the gastrointestinal tract. The presence of onboard electronics means that the drug delivery is both precise and flexible.
Advantages of Electronic Pills
When we talk about revolutionary technologies, electronic pills top the list. The New York Times made a statement that rather than the doctor advising patients to take a pill and then call back after using it, the electronic pill will be doing the calling.
Apart from improving the existing methods of diagnosis, some of the other advantages of electronic pills are presented in the paragraphs that follow.
1. Localized Drug Delivery is Possible
Think of the possibilities; smaller doses of drugs and then fewer complications resulting from the drug’s movement through the bloodstream. This means that the side effects of the drug are minimized and the therapeutic value is maximized. We can also expect the drug to take effect quicker since it dispenses the medicine at specific locations even along the way.
2. Instant Response is Allowed
An electronic pill is equipped with microprocessors, batteries, antenna, and other components. This means that it is possible for medical staffs to get a real-time alert about the patient’s behavior to the drug. If the doctor then observes any anomaly, certain commands can be sent to ensure that the delivery is halted.
Disadvantages of Electronic Pills
As good as they are, some significant drawbacks persist which limit the widespread application. Until these issues are attended to, electronic pills can as well be considered as sci-fi rather than reality. Some of these limitations are discussed below.
1. Electronic Pills are Exorbitantly Priced
If you’ve only seen electronic pills on the internet and not in a pharmacy near you, it’s because of the cost barrier. Electronic pills, at the moment, are products of significant investments in research and development. As such, it is not available for commercial consumption in many countries. However, with advances in printing and nanotechnology, it is expected that the cost of production will reduce in the coming years.
2. The Application is Limited
Because it is still a relatively new technology, the applications are still restricted to certain areas. For instance, it cannot be used to detect radiation abnormalities, neither can it be used to carry out radiation treatment. It is also not available to little kids yet because complications may arise from issues with digestion.
In the laboratories, it has been demonstrated that electronic pills which employ the body’s natural electrolytes can be created. These pills will then disintegrate after the aim has been met. However, the process of turning this pill into reality is no easy feat. In the next 5 to 10 years, we can expect working prototypes of these ideas available to humans.
Another thing to look out for is the use of novel materials for the batteries. Currently, Lithium is being used now but researchers envisage a switch to Sodium. This is all in a bid to provide humanity with the safest, most reliable, and cost-effective solution.