University of Florida engineers have developed a prototype of a "tattletale pill" by adding a tiny microchip and digestible antenna to a standard pill capsule. The prototype opens up the possibility that mass-produced pills will someday be equipped to inform doctors and loved ones that patients have ingested their medication.
The technology could prove useful in clinical trails, which often require visual confirmation of participants taking pills - an extremely expensive proposition if hundreds or thousands of people are participating. A pill that could confirm that someone has taken the medication would help lower expenses and facilitate drug experiments.
The pill is a standard white capsule coated with a label embossed with silvery lines that comprise the antenna, which is printed using ink made of nontoxic, conductive silver nanoparticles. The pill also contains a tiny microchip that is about the size of a period. When a patient takes the pill, it communicates with the second main element of the system: a small electronic device carried or worn by the patient - for now, a standalone device, but in the future, perhaps a watch or cell phone. The device signals to a cell phone or laptop that the pill has been ingested, informing doctors and/or family members.