digital pill, artificial intelligence, machine learning, medicine, startup

Podcast: The pill which tracks your digital code – and can alert you when you are ill

“Digital pills” were once the stuff of science fiction B-movies, but they could soon become a reality.

When we get ill, we often take something in pill form, in the hope that it will make us feel better. But this is all about to change as breakthroughs in technology are set to radically alter the pharmaceutical industry.

Tiny digital devices can now be implanted in the human body, able to track the owner’s wellbeing and immediately send out an alert when something doesn’t look right.

These “digital pills” are able to trace the electrical signals that nerve cells generate to deliver messages from one part of the body to another. As particular nerves control certain internal organs and disease process, the pill can detect when things are out of balance.

“[The pill] creates something which is going to be disruptive,” Bipin Patel, founder of ElectronRX – which is behind the development of the pill – tells Business Reporter at the start-up’s base at the Barclays Eagle Lab in Cambridge. “It taps into our internal system, the parasympathetic nervous system, which works in the background and manages all sorts of things that we are not conscious of. Essentially, it maintains a homeostasis as to what is going on in the body.”

The pill collects data about the body – using this a sophisticated AI algorithm builds a picture of how well the body is functioning. “You are looking at and listening to what is going on in that body and trying to work out what that pattern is,” he said. “And if that pattern goes wrong, you decipher what it is and then you intervene, either therapeutically with the pill or in combination with existing drugs.”

The technology has a broad set of applications, says Patel, as well as the potential to be used to treat conditions as varied as pain, epilepsy, obesity, eating disorders and diabetes. The game-changing aspect behind the technology, Patel explains, is in how the technology treats people according to their individual needs.

“We do different things every day,” he said. “We sleep, behave differently and feel differently every day.” This, he explains, means an approach is needed that is individual to an individual’s behaviour.

The technology is progressing through the test phases, with several clinical trials of the technology having been conducted. “We have a piece of innovation that could potentially touch the lives of many thousands of people, if not a few million,” Patel says.


Podcast music AcidJazz by Kevin MacLeod, Free Music Archive, (CC BY 3.0)

This podcast is available on iTunes and Stitcher

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