The Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute is pioneering ‘smart pill’ technology to detect and prevent overdoses
by Jessica Riley
The pill helps against diseases, but has the potential to detect signs of an overdose.
The WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute conducted the first human study using an innovative “smart pill” technology that measures and monitors vital signs. The pill helps against diseases, but has the potential to detect signs of an overdose.
“It has tiny sensors inside that measure breathing by lung movements,” said RNI chief executive Dr. Ali Rezai. “The measure of heart rate, the rhythm of the heart, it measures the temperature deep inside the body and also measures the bowel movements.”
Ten participants underwent sleep studies at the WVU Medicine Sleep Evaluation Center, swallowing the Celero Systems vitals monitoring pill.
Dr. Rezai said it was a success.
“Patients with various disorders such as people with sleep apnea, atrial fibrillation, arrhythmias,” Rezai said.
But something researchers are studying is how this device can help with drug abuse and overdoses in an opioid crisis.
“If we can have new technologies that we develop that can detect someone who has an overdose or respiratory depression, then we might be able to save lives or have this pill send alerts to caretakers, care teams and first responders for that person,” said Rezai.
In 2022 alone, there were more than 100,000 overdose deaths, not including the estimated 800,000 non-fatal ODs. This technology can pave the way to save many, especially because it is a remote solution.
“Addiction, I think there are way too many people dying from overdoses,” Rezai said. “The numbers are increasing, and by many estimates the numbers will continue to grow.”
Rezai said they are hopeful for the pill’s ability.
The next step is that we are now testing this on people with different addictions and substance use disorders,” said Rezai. “Then the next-generation technology we’re developing is that this pill can stay inside your gut for a week.
Researchers are also working on a new route that would allow a chamber of medication inside the pill, such as Narcan, should the sensors detect signs of an OD.
And while it’s still early days, there’s hope that this pill is something that could be available to the public by 2025.