The Internet of Things just got more complex as experts at a recent pediatrics conference in Boston declared that wearable monitors are out and ingestible monitors are in, literally. During a segment on mobile and digital health the Global Pediatrics Innovation Summit, panelists focused intensely on the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables and, yes, ingestibles.
"We're at the beginning of that point in history where healthcare will become a continuous function in your life. This notion that you visit someone and you sit in front of them and that's how you get healthcare is going to go away," said Joseph C. Kvedar, founding director of Partners Healthcare's Center for Connected Health, during a panel on the topic. "Wearables are an important part of it, but it's certainly not the only part."
Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the MIT Media Lab, and one of Kvedar's co-panelists, took Kvedar's observation further. "Wearables are very interim," he stated. "They're going to go away. It's just a short-term phenomenon. It's going to be ingested. There's no other way," said Negroponte. "It's going to live in your bloodstream. To have to wear something is like putting a thermostat outside your house. It doesn't make sense. It should be inside your house -- and the bloodstream's a perfectly good way."
The ingestible revolution
Indeed, the ingestibles revolution has already started. So far, it is being led by Proteus Digital Health, a California-based manufacturer of a variety of e-pills. Currently planning a new line of products -- dubbed Digital Medicines -- in partnership with Novartis and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, Proteus aims to actually integrate its sensor within active pharmaceuticals. In the meanwhile, the company presently offers a line of e-pills -- approved by the FDA in 2012 -- that are to be taken alongside one's existing medication.
From there, Proteus's e-pills allow doctors, family members, drug researchers and others to monitor patients (for instance, to help ensure that the patient is in fact taking his medication as directed) and their physiological data -- such as activity levels and how the body reacts to the medication with which the e-pill is taken.
Proteus is not the only e-pill maker. HQ, Inc., has long offered its CorTemp pill, offering real-time internal body-temperature monitoring for firefighters, astronauts, soldiers, athletes and other professionals prone to overheating. Furthermore, capsule endoscopies -- colonoscopy alternatives wherein the patient swallows a pill containing a camera with wireless transmission capabilities -- have been around for years.
Google recently announced that it, too, has an e-pill (albeit still some years away from being on the market) that will scan the body for disease, transmit the data it collects to a Bluetooth-enabled wearable, and perform other actions as programmed, such as binding to cancer cells.
There are broader health benefits yet to ingestibles. CNBC technology reporter Cadie Thompson writes that the real-time data gathered from e-pills can help pharmaceutical companies develop better drugs faster and cheaper -- as they monitor how well their existing drugs are working on patients.
What's more, the ingestibles market goes beyond healthcare. Proteus, in partnership with Motorola, has begun manufacturing e-pills with authentication sensors that act as a pseudo-biometric alternative to passwords which means that a person who has swallowed their e-pill can authenticate devices based on their physical proximity.
"It means that my arms are like wires, my hands are like alligator clips," boasted Regina Dugan, a Motorola special projects lead, at last year's All Things Digital D11 Conference. "When I touch my phone, my computer, my door, my car, I'm authenticated in."
Speaking of security, however, it's worth noting that anything IoT-enabled can be hacked (and even be used to kill). As helpful as they may be, the question remains as to whether e-pills will make us healthier in the long run—or only subject our bodies to viruses of a different sort. (See A Killer App.)
— Joe Stanganelli, Freelance Contributor, special to The New IP