Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Pill That Listens: And Wait'll You See What's Next

"Look out, your medicine is watching you"
Ben Hirschler, Reuters (November 8, 2010)

"Novartis AG plans to seek regulatory approval within 18 months for a pioneering tablet containing an embedded microchip, bringing the concept of 'smart-pill' technology a step closer.

"The initial program will use one of the Swiss firm's established drugs taken by transplant patients to avoid organ rejection. But Trevor Mundel, global head of development, believes the concept can be applied to many other pills.

" 'We are taking forward this transplant drug with a chip and we hope within the next 18 months to have something that we will be able to submit to the regulators, at least in Europe,' Mundel told the Reuters Health Summit in New York.

" 'I see the promise as going much beyond that,' he added...."

"...Mundel said the initial project was focused on ensuring that patients took drugs at the right time and got the dose they needed -- a key issue for people after kidney and other transplant operations, when treatment frequently needs adjustment.

"Longer-term, he hopes to expand the 'smart pill' concept to other types of medicine and use the wealth of biometric information the Proteus chip can collect, from heart rate and temperature to body movement, to check that drugs are working properly...."

And the Lemming sees a whole lot of lawsuits here in America, as fearful folks become convinced that their privacy is being invaded. Or maybe it'll be that the CIA is tuning in on their brainwaves, using a microchip they ate in a covert BLT sandwich.

This is definitely not the world I grew up in.

Which is fine by me. I don't mind having microwave ovens, DVD players, cell phones about the size of the old Star Trek communicators: and medical technologies that help keep me in good operating condition. (I've discussed my biases about medical technology before.)

Others apparently aren't making the transition to the Information Age quite so smoothly.

New Technologies Will Solve All Our Problems: HA!

As I've written before, this new technology will be misused. We're human beings. That's what we do. Sometimes. Other times - most of the time, in the Lemming's opinion - technology is used for constructive purposes.

But it won't solve all our problems. Most of which come from inside us - and that's a different topic, for another blog. (Recently: "Mirrors, Television, and MP3 Players," A Catholic Citizen in America (November 6, 2010))

These gutbots (the Lemming's confident that medical technology companies will come up with a catchier name) have a lot to offer: detailed telemetry from our GI tract, for starters.

A bit further down the road, I'm looking for small implants that get power from our bloodstream, just as our cells do: They could be used for long-term diagnostic work.

And maybe better artificial organs than what we've got now. Pacemakers, for starters.

Today the Gut: Tomorrow, the Brain!

The Lemming may be more aware of what strokes can do to a person than most folks. My mother had a stroke - a bad one - and that's enough about that.

The point is that we've getting a pretty good picture of how the brain is wired. Parts of it, anyway. Cochlear implants already use an electronic-neural interface to help folks with severe hearing problems hear through a microphone sitting behind their ears.

It's a big step - make that quite a few huge steps - from a cochlear implant to plug-in components that can replace damaged parts of the brain. But 'brain chips' like that are looking less and less unlikely by the year.

And that's another topic.

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