The Smart Pill's Fantastic Voyage

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted December 13, 2006

Before there was the "Smart Pill," there was "The Fantastic Voyage." That was the 1966 science fiction thriller that featured an amazing trip by a miniaturized submarine and its crew into the body of a comatose spy in order to save his life.

It was an instant classic at the time and remains so today, because once inside the spy’s body the team must race against time and the spy’s own bodily systems to fix the clot in his brain.

But while the movie continues to be a campy cult favorite, the wild idea that it contained is in some ways becoming a reality.

This time, however, it is not a submarine and crew that is being put into a patient’s body, but a pill. But like the movie submarine it can make a life-saving journey through the human body, allowing doctors to see exactly what is going on in there.

It’s called the SmartPill, and soon it will be making one fantastic voyage after another.

Developed by the Buffalo-based SmartPill Corporation, the "pill" is a vitamin-sized piece of electronics that collects data from within a patient’s body and wirelessly transmits that information to a nearby device.

Approved for use by the FDA in July, the pill offers the hope of faster and more comfortable diagnosis for gastroparesis. That is the condition in which food stays in the stomach for more than four hours. It’s especially common in diabetics, and can cause a set of serious complications including lack of appetite and vomit-inducing stomach spasms.

Previously, diagnosing this condition meant a run of costly and uncomfortable tests that were often inconclusive.

"They would go anywhere from an endoscope (in which a tube is passed through the mouth to the stomach), to a barium test (in which a thick liquid is swallowed and tracked), to a gastric emptying centrifuge," explains SmartPill president and CEO David Barthel. "These patients will often run through these all of these procedures and it could take anywhere from six months to two years to accurately diagnose a motility patient."

But with the introduction of the SmartPill, that is all about to change.

That’s because the plastic-sheathed pill is taken like any other-it’s swallowed. From there it begins its trip through the stomach and intestines. All the while, its miniaturized sensors collect and transmit information on pressure, PH, and temperature.

This data and other information allows the physician to detect signs of possible disease in the gastrointestinal tract.

At journey’s end, usually with a day or two, the pill is simply ejected with the rest of the body’s waste.

Once the cycle is complete, the doctor simply downloads the data for diagnosis.

Barthel say the disposable pills will retail for about $500, while the computer system and software that evaluate the results will sell for about $20,000.

It’s all part of a move within the gastrointestinal (GI) community to design and produce medical technology to assist in the diagnosis, definition, and therapeutic intervention in diseases affecting the digestive system. GI diseases affect 60-70 million people annually, and treatment costs are expected to exceed $12 billion in the U.S. and grow by 10% annually over the next five years.

While the "Smart Pill" technology is certainly revolutionary, it is hardly alone in the marketplace. A capsule containing a tiny camera has also been developed and is currently being used by GI healthcare providers. It is called the PillCam and was first developed in 2001 by an Israeli company called Given Imaging (GIVN:NASDAQ)

Unlike the Smart Pill, it doesn’t collect just data, but images as well. The pill’s tiny cameras deliver high-quality color images and are now being used to detect all sorts of disorders like Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease and intestinal tumors.

To date some tens of thousands of patients have benefited from its use. In fact, just last week the company was chosen from among 225 participants as the winner of the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneer 2007 award.

This award marked just one of the many milestones this amazing industry has achieved as its technology continues to grow.

So while we may never be able to take a perilous journey through the human body ourselves, today’s "Smart Pill" technology is certainly the next best thing-even if it’s without Raquel Welch.

Wishing you happiness… health… and wealth,

Steve Christ


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