First FDA-Approved Digital Pill Tracks Schizophrenic Patients

The FDA has approved the first pill with an embedded ingestible sensor that can track when, or if, a patient takes their medication. 


The FDA has approved the first pill with an embedded ingestible sensor that can track when, or if, a patient takes their medication. The sensor will be used with the drug Abilify MyCite—which is prescribed to treat schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders and depression—and automatically shares data with doctors, caregivers, family members or anyone else the patient has pre-approved.

The sensor attempts to solve the problem of nonadherence. As it turns out, millions of patients don’t take their medications as prescribed, which leads to poor therapeutic outcomes and costs billions per year in avoidable health care costs. Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, said for The New York Times that the digital pill “has the potential to improve public health,” especially for patients who want to take their medication but forget. 


 

Proteus Digital Health

 

On the flip side, the constant monitoring may actually increase mistrust or make patients feel uncomfortable. Dr. Peter Kramer, a psychiatrist referred to the drug as “packaging a medication with a tattletale.”

Here’s how the ingestible sensor works with the drug. The sensor is the size of a “grain of sand” and is embedded within the pill at the point of manufacture. In addition to taking the pill, the patients are also required to wear a patch on their skin, which acts as an external sensor. The patch reads the signals sent from the ingested sensor, which is activated after the pill has interacted with stomach fluids. The information is then sent from the patch to an app installed on the patient’s phone. The patient can share (or stop sharing at any time) this information with others. 

Ironically, the FDA notes on their website that “the ability of the product to improve patient compliance with their treatment regimen has not been shown.” The choice of drug (one that treats schizophrenia) to feature the first sensor of this kind may also raise some eyebrows. As Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said:

“There’s an irony in it being given to people with mental disorders that can include delusions. It’s like a biomedical Big Brother.”

Still, the technology could have other potentially beneficial applications. It could be used, for example, in clinical trials to make sure that participants are following protocols correctly. It could also be used to track excessive opioid use - a problem that has been on the rise in the U.S.

In more controversial applications, taking a pill like this could be a requirement for releasing patients with certain type of psychiatric disorders. It is also not a stretch to see that insurers may take an interest in it and provide incentives to customers who use it.

--

Trusting your instincts is lazy: Poker pro Liv Boeree on Big Think Edge

International poker champion Liv Boeree teaches decision-making for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to make decisions with the clarity of a World Series Poker Champion.
  • Liv Boeree teaches analytical thinking for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Here's when machines will take your job, as predicted by A.I. gurus

An MIT study predicts when artificial intelligence will take over for humans in different occupations.

Photo credit: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / AFP / Getty Images
Surprising Science

While technology develops at exponential speed, transforming how we go about our everyday tasks and extending our lives, it also offers much to worry about. In particular, many top minds think that automation will cost humans their employment, with up to 47% of all jobs gone in the next 25 years. And chances are, this number could be even higher and the massive job loss will come earlier.

Keep reading Show less

Horseshoe crabs are captured for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less