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Medical design innovations are moving into areas never before attempted. The following are just a few of a vast array of leading-edge technologies that address what the future of medical technology will bring.

Ingestible Sensor Tracks Medication

To make healthcare more manageable, accessible, and cost-effective, Proteus Digital Health Inc. has created a new category of mobile technology healthcare that will allow the integration of medicines that treat chronic conditions.

“Medications work best if they are taken exactly as prescribed,” said Todd Thompson, vice president corporate development. “Unfortunately, a high percentage of [patients] often forget to take their medications. Irregular medication use reduces effectiveness and can exacerbate the underlying illness or create other issues for patients.”

The challenge Proteus faced was how to make “smart” medications. How could the company connect medications to the Internet using all forms of modern devices to create an information flow that a doctor can see, regulate, and change?

The answer was the development of an ingestible sensor. This required a team of experts: engineers with integrated circuit and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) design and processing experience combined with medical device design/development experts who understood the requirements for the development and approval of a medical device. The sensor had to be extremely small, rugged, safe, and intelligent for its short life, and yet inexpensive so that it could become ubiquitous. Finally, it had to be something that could be manufactured in very high volume and easily integrated into the normal pill manufacturing process.

 “A critical decision made at the very beginning was that the sensor was to be made entirely from safe materials found naturally in the human diet,” said Thompson. “The final materials chosen were silicon, magnesium, and copper--essential dietary elements that are found in food.”

The next challenge was to create a sensor that could send a signal that could be detected with a high level of accuracy by a device attached to a person’s body. This required the design of a communication system that would allow the detection of the extremely small signals created by the sensor and the design of a method to power the sensor that did not require the addition of an external power source.

The team developed a method of powering the sensor using the person’s body. The two metals--copper and magnesium--interact with fluid in the patient’s stomach, which acts like an electrolyte to form a battery and power the sensor. When activated, the sensor creates a signal that can be detected by a receiver that is worn on the patient’s abdomen. The sensor itself is comparable to the size of a grain of sand.

 “The ingestible sensor’s only job is to indicate when the medication has been ingested and relay this information to the wearable monitor. The wearable monitor collects important physiologic information, providing physicians with a way to conform their patient treatment decisions,” Thompson said.

The ingestible sensor and wearable monitor are cleared for use in the United States and Europe. The system is commercially available with the sensor in a placebo tablet and is used in a co-ingestion model. Truly digital medication, where the sensor is combined within the medication itself, is the next step. A unique code for each sensor embedded in a digital drug could be linked with information about the type, dose, manufacturer, and any other important information about the drug.

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