Sensor necklace replaces medication diaries, helps fight noncompliance

ATLANTA Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering have designed a sensor necklace that records the exact time and date when specifically designed pills are swallowed, and reminds patients if any doses are being missed.

“Forgetfulness is a huge problem, especially among the elderly, but so is taking the medication at the wrong time, stopping too early or taking the wrong dose,” said Maysam Ghovanloo, assistant professor in the school. “Studies show that drug noncompliance costs the country billions of dollars each year as a result of re-hospitalization, complications, disease progression and even death.”

The necklace, called MagneTrace, contains an array of magnetic sensors that could be used to detect when specially designed medications containing a tiny magnet passes through a person’s esophagus. And for persons who may not want to wear a necklace, MagneTrace sensors can be incorporated into a patch attached to the chest.

The date and time the user swallowed the pill can be recorded on a handheld wireless device, such as a smartphone, carried on the user’s body. The information can then be sent to the patient’s doctor, caregiver or family member over the Internet. The device can notify both the patient and the patient’s doctor if the prescribed dosage is not taken at the proper time.

This technology can also help researchers and pharmaceutical companies conduct more accurate clinical trials of new drugs. Currently, medication diaries kept by the patients determine compliance but patients are prone to fill out diaries just before meetings held to monitor their progress and they may adjust their medication to compensate for missed doses. Inaccurate data from clinical trials can affect decisions made about new drugs, potentially impacting millions of people.

“A patient cannot cheat the system by passing the pill past the necklace sensors on the outside of the neck because the signal processing algorithm is smart enough to only look for the pill’s magnetic signature while it passes through the esophagus,” said Ghovanloo.

MagneTrace was designed so that it would have no effect on the body. Multiple strong magnets in the gastrointestinal tract can potentially result in a blockage. However, the magnet used in the pill or capsule is very small—three millimeters in diameter and about one millimeter thick—and coated with a thick indigestible, insoluble polymer coating that prevents absorption of the magnet and prevents magnets from combining.