Magic Pills

By Norman Boucher / May/June 2011
May 6th, 2011

Some medical ideas are so obvious you wonder why no one thought of them before. Usually someone has, but applying the idea proved more complicated than the idea itself. 

Take pills, for example. When you swallow a Tylenol, it dissolves, releasing the medication, which then rides the bloodstream to, well, everywhere. Sometimes, though, the drug needs to go to a particular organ or part of the body and stay there. What if you could Etch A Sketch it: put a magnet in the pill and use another one outside the body to direct it and hold it in the right place?

Until now, the obstacle has been guiding the pill without damaging soft tissue. Now a team led by Professor of Medical Science Edith Mathiowitz and Bryan Laulicht '14 PhD, has found the balance between strength and control.

"What we developed," Mathiowitz told Technology Review, "could be extremely useful for improving availability for drugs that have even narrow therapeutic windows," such as gastrointestinal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.

"You can use it two ways," she explained. "A retention system for the stomach [to ensure the patient receives the desired dosage] and for localization in specific regions of the gastrointestinal tract—regions that are very hard to reach."

So far Mathiowitz's team has been successful using the technique in rats. Next up is to use real medication in the capsules and test the magnets in larger animals. 

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May/June 2011