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Magnets may one day help patients get the most out of their medicine

January 18, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times

Think your medication dosage isn't strong enough? No need to get a bigger pill -- simply move it around in your belly. With magnets.

That's the idea behind technology that was explored in a paper published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Swallowing pills may be less unpleasant than getting a shot, but pills are a bit difficult to control once they enter the gastrointestinal tract. The body absorbs more or less medicine depending on where the pill is.

Ideally, pills could be guided to whichever spot would yield the most effect. But how to tell them where to go?

The answer: magnets. The magnet idea has been explored in other work, but this study was the first to safely control the pills' movements in the body. Researchers from Brown University in Providence, R.I., had albino rats take gelatin capsules containing tiny magnets. The team used a magnet outside the body to direct the movement of the pills in the small intestine, and it used a computer to track the pills to make sure they were responding to the magnet and to ensure that as little force as possible was used, to avoid causing damage). It also took X-rays to visually track the pills' location in the rats.

The researchers found that even after 12 hours, they could control the pill using just 1/60th of the force that would result in damage.

Medical applications are likely to be a long way off, but the study authors see research possibilities -- for example, using the guidance system to test which spots are better and worse at absorbing chemicals.

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