In today’s world, it’s an exciting time for medical technology. And making smart use of modern digital innovations is bringing revolutions in health care for the young and old.
The ability to combine information and function from various devices to personalize treatment based on individual conditions presents enormous opportunity to both improve health and reduce costs. And these trends support the demands for individuals to assume greater control and ownership of their own health state.
One concept related to these trends is that of an electronic pill. And, although the idea of an electronic pill has been around for decades, researchers never quite brought this technology to reality. That is, until now.
Medimetrics, a Germany-based company developing electronic oral drug delivery, has brought this idea to reality with its IntelliCap technology.
“Our challenge was to construct and deploy a device using advanced, but available, components and production techniques,” says Jeff Shimizu, CTO, Medimetrics in an interview with R&D Magazine. Elements of drug, electronics, wireless communication and micromechanics had to be combined in a way to preserve small size, reliable manufacturing and a safety profile fit for medical use.
“An electronic drug delivery pill presents an entirely new means of intelligent delivery and monitoring,” says Shimizu. And this development opens the door to a wide range of applications which are in the early stages of exploration.
About the IntelliCap technology
The first use for the IntelliCap system has been as an effective delivery tool for targeted modified release formulation development. “This has already enabled more efficient research and development of new pharmaceutical products,” says Shimizu. Future versions of the technology will be customized, aimed at specific disease treatments that at the same time take advantage of monitoring and electronic control functions.
The IntelliCap system is an electronic drug delivery and monitoring device. The technology includes a drug reservoir, delivery pump, electronic microcontroller, wireless communication and sensors.
The delivery device is constructed in a small pill-shaped capsule that is swallowed and passes through the gastro-intestinal tract. While in the body, the capsule takes measurements of the local pH and temperature. This data is reported by wireless RF communication to an external unit and may be monitored at a computer or mobile device.
Additionally, commands may be sent to the capsule while in the body. The measurements allow localization of the IntelliCap capsule which, in turn, is used for accurate delivery of drug at specifically targeted locations in the gastro-intestinal tract. Drug delivery is controlled by the on-board electronics enabling both precise and adaptable delivery patterns that are not possible by other means.
Opening new research opportunities
A recent R&D breakthrough made possible by the IntelliCap system saw the capsule performing in a new way—this time required to operate as a sampling device rather than as a delivery system.
“The capsule first enters the body with its reservoir empty, but as it reaches the small intestine it’s then ‘commanded’ to aspirate a volume of fluid,” says Shimizu. “This operation allows, for the first time, a means of examining the contents of the small intestines in a convenient and non-invasive way.”
It’s known the composition of the microbiota in the gut varies between individuals, and this composition has a relationship to health and disease. These relationships and the opportunities to improve health and/or treat disease by controlling the composition are an active and promising field of research.
Knowing the potential the technology has for this field of research, scientists at Wageningen Univ. saw the opportunity with the IntelliCap technology to characterize the microbiota in the small intestines in a natural and non-invasive way. “Up to now, most of the work in microbiota researcher is conducted by analyzing fecal samples,” says Shimizu. “While this part of the body is easily accessible, analysis of fecal samples will always be incomplete.”
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