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RFID Could Help Advance Drug Trials

A new system called MagneTrace tracks pills as they're swallowed.
By Mark Roberti
Apr 01, 2011—People don't always take their pills as prescribed, which can be a big problem when pharmaceutical companies are testing new drugs. Accurate information is essential to determine whether a medication works well when taken as directed. Several companies have tried using RFID to track drug compliance, but most record only when someone removes a pill from a box or blister pack, not whether the drug is consumed.

Now, Maysam Ghovanloo, director of the GT-Bionics Lab and an assistant professor in the school of electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, has developed a system called MagneTrace that tracks pills as they're swallowed. The system uses a necklace that contains magnetic sensors and an RFID reader designed to detect an ingestible RFID transponder inside a capsule. "The magnetic sensors are very sensitive," Ghovanloo says. "They are used in GPS devices to sense the Earth's magnetic field, and because GPS devices are very popular, the sensors are inexpensive."

Maysam Ghovanloo and graduate student Xueliang Huo with an early MagneTrace prototype. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech/Gary Meek.)
The pill containing the tiny transponder also carries a trace of magnetic material. When the capsule is swallowed, the sensors in the necklace detect the change in the magnetic field around the neck area and turn on the RFID reader. The reader picks up the unique ID of the RFID transponder inside the pill. The RFID tag can store drug type, dosage, manufacturer and related information.

The data can be transferred from the necklace to a smart phone using a short-range proprietary communications protocol. If the data doesn't have to be collected and analyzed quickly, it can be stored on the RFID reader in the necklace and downloaded when the patient visits a clinic.
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