Drugs are one of the many miracles of modern medicine; they can provide safe and effective treatment for a wide range of conditions ranging from a simple headache to a life-threatening illness. One problem is that the different parts of the body have totally different chemical makeups, and it can be difficult to get a specific drug delivered to the right area of the body in order to be effective. This is especially true for pills taken orally. The strong acids of the stomach can wreak havoc on many complex chemical compounds, because that’s precisely what they do in order to digest food. Some conditions need drugs delivered to the lower intestine, however, in order to treat conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.

Researchers at Purdue University are working on a solution. They have developed a smart pill that can deliver a drug payload to a targeted part of a patient’s digestive track. The size of a standard 000 gelatin capsule (about one inch long), the electromechanical device is divided into two compartments. One side carries the drugs to be delivered, held in place by a spring-loaded cap. The other half contains a capacitor which holds an electrical charge, and a magnetic reed switch. When the capsule comes within range of a magnetic field, the switch closes a circuit that sends electricity through a Nichrome wire, which then breaks and releases the cap on the drug reservoir.

A patient simply wears a magnet on his or her waist and swallows the pill. In about 12 hours, the pill will reach the target area and the magnet will activate the release mechanism. The device has been tested using a simulated digestive tract, but has not yet been used in human trials. Once it is perfected, this design could be helpful in the treatment of many conditions.