I want to talk about the recent decision in the US for the FDA, the regulatory body for medicines, to approve ‘trackable pills’. That basically means pills that can be digitally tracked through the body.
The pills in question, named Abilify MyCite, contain the drug aripiprazole, used to treat schizophrenia and mania. As you might imagine, it is a constant bane of the mental health profession (and patients, indeed) that sufferers of mental illnesses like schizophrenia or those in the grips of a manic episode are often reluctant to take the medication they have been prescribed.
Medication in illnesses like these is critical, as, without it, patients can quickly become a danger to themselves, and occasionally others. Not knowing whether a patient has taken their meds can make it difficult to effectively treat mental disorders – physicians can hardly know whether or not the drugs are working if they don’t know if they are actually being taken. In this way, therefore, solutions like Abilify MyCite have significant benefits.
It isn’t only the doctor that has access to the data gathered from the Abilify MyCite bot. The patient wears a patch that transmits information to their smartphone. The information collected can also be sent to the prescribing doctor if the patient consents to it. Therein lies the rub, I guess, of the idea that these trackable pills could ensure patients take their meds. Patient agency must always be of utmost importance. But assuming the decision to share data is made when the patient is of sound mind, and untamperable once the pill has been ingested, then that might be a solution.
The data collected could, in theory, be used for all types of medical research which is potentially its most powerful tool. As the pill is constantly collecting information, it could also be set up to monitor cell changes that could then be used to diagnose and treat serious illnesses.
It takes as little as 30 minutes for a patient to digest a pill and to start collecting information. At the end of the day, if nanotechnology can help in treating psychiatric patients whilst not being invasive then it’s probably a step in the right direction. On the other hand, if that patient suffers from acute paranoia then this may not be a beneficial treatment plan, if you see where I’m going with this.
However, the nanotechnology behind trackable pills like this leads us into some grey territory. It could be argued that this move represents the first real step towards monitoring and evaluating humans. That, in itself, is something that we should be aware of. I have no doubt more nanotechnology will find its way into mainstream medicine, but could it have more nefarious uses?
There are those that see this is an unethical form of treatment and a huge invasion of patient privacy. Yes, there is an ethical quandary here, but where a patient benefits from tracking like this, it’s surely a question of the greater good for the individual. The real ethical problem, for me, arises in the case that nanotechnology becomes a troubling government control issue, which may be a bit paranoid, but it’s not altogether an outlandish statement to make right now.
I have been reading a lot of articles on nanotech in medicine recently and there are a few very interesting discussions going on. One discussion which particularly caught my eye was the use of nanotechnology in our blood stream monitoring cell changes. In the next five to ten years, doctors could be able to spot and monitor an illness before it has time to form. This is a fantastic example of the potential nanotechnology has to revolutionise the healthcare space!
Do you remember the 1987 film, Innerspace? Let me recap for you: Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Quaid) is placed in a submersible pod and both are shrunk to microscopic size, transferred into a syringe to be injected into a rabbit. With only a few hours of oxygen, they must find a way out. Isn’t it funny that we’re thinking about this nanotechnology in the late 80’s? Science fiction, as they say, often becomes science fact. I can’t see a doctor zooming through my bloodstream in a spaceship any time soon, though.
Moving on, I think we need to consider how much do we need to know, and moreover, how easy should it be to extract this info. Do we need to have 24 hour coverage of our body’s health? I am not an expert by any means when it comes to nanotechnology but from what I can tell it’s incredibly intelligent software that will be a game changer in years to come. I don’t think we have scratched the surface when it comes down to its potential uses. Nonetheless, there are undoubtedly important compliance issues that need to overcome before we can move forward. But once we do, we may find a healthier, happier life awaiting us.