Philips is conducting trials of a tiny computer that takes the form of a pill that can be swallowed. The device will dispense medicines, and can be controlled within the human body.
The iPill (intelligent pill) is designed to release medicine in controlled bursts inside the body at the command of a doctor communicating wirelessly with the device.
“If a doctor sees an adverse reaction, a signal could be sent to override the iPill and not distribute any more of the drug,” says Steve Klink, a senior communications manager at Philips Research.
In the form of an 11 x 26 mm capsule, the iPill incorporates a microprocessor, battery, pH sensor, temperature sensor, RF wireless transceiver, fluid pump and drug reservoir. It communicates via its wireless transceiver to a control unit outside the body.
Localized drug delivery is performed by the iPill’s internal pump under the control of the microprocessor, allowing accurate control of the drug delivery profile. The pump is a screw-driven piston powered by an internal silver-oxide battery, which has enough power to last for 48 hours. Examples of possible delivery profiles include a burst, progressive release or a multi-location dosing.
Pre-planning can be used to determine the target location for drug delivery and hence to define a control program for the microprocessor. This program is loaded into the iPill before it is swallowed, where it controls execution of the drug delivery profile in response to pH measurements taken as the iPill moves through the gut. Further data from the iPill, such as its temperature measurements, are reported wirelessly to an external control unit, which records data and may also transmit additional control signals back to the iPill.
The iPill is currently being tested in animals, but human volunteers have taken it to make sure the device can pass easily through the body.