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University Team Sees Ingestible RFID Tag as a Boon to Clinical Trials

The tag, attached to a small capsule, would enable drug developers to track when individuals take their medication.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 27, 2010In 2005, Rizwan Bashirullah, an assistant professor at the University of Florida's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, faced an unusual challenge: to develop a technology for tracking when medications were taken, thereby ensuring patients or clinical trial participants stay on their drug regimen. Jose Principe, a University of Florida professor of electrical and computer engineering, had asked Bashirullah to develop transmission technology as part of a team he was organizing to create a system to aid in the detection of medication regimen compliance.

The problem is especially prominent, Bashirullah says, in clinical trials in which a pharmaceutical company may be testing a specific drug, and the results of such studies depend on trial participants taking tested medications at the exact time—and at the specific dosage—prescribed. To that end, pharmaceutical companies often ask participating individuals to take the medication in front of a witness, in order to ensure the drugs are being taken properly.

Rizwan Bashirullah and the RFID-enabled drug capsule that he and his colleagues developed
Bashirullah tried to conceive an RFID-based solution to the problem. "Initially, I thought it couldn't be done," he says, For one thing, although RFID could transmit information that would confirm the swallowing of a pill, he was uncertain if it was possible for a tag to transmit a passive RF signal through the human body from the digestive tract. After several years' worth of research, however, Bashirullah and his colleagues and students have developed a tiny RFID tag—adhered to a pill capsule—that could transmit sensor data indicating the pill was in an individual's digestive system.

The system, including a microchip, a digestible antenna and software, was designed by a team of researchers from Florida University, as well as Florida biomedical research and engineering firm Convergent Engineering. In October 2009, Bashirullah and several of the researchers launched a company known as eTect, to develop and market the solution, which they dubbed an ID-Cap.

The system employs low-frequency (LF) signals and the human body's natural electrical conductivity to carry the signals from an RFID interrogator to the tag, and from the tag back to the reader. To date, the system has been tested only on devices that mimic the human body, as well as on cadavers.

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