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What could possibly go wrong with swallowing tracking microchips with already highly toxic pharmaceuticals?
At GreenMedInfo, we’ve been closely monitoring the development of implantable medical devices, controversial nanotechnology that has existed for at least twenty years. Nearly a decade ago, we reported that ingestible RFID tech was being pioneered to assist with medication compliance. By August 2012, the FDA issued a green-light for the development of an ingestible sensor that would electronically verify when patients took their medicine. In the final weeks of 2017, Abilify MyCite, the world’s first digital pill, was approved for use by the FDA. The pill represents the literal and figurative merging of pharmacology with digital technology. Whether or not you are comfortable with transmitting your most personal health information via an app on your cell phone, the financial implications of this emerging technology mean it is likely to be a more pervasive—and invasive—treatment option, one that could eventually become hard to avoid.
Abilify MyCite heralds the future of hybridized “med-tech” pharmaceuticals. A powerful antipsychotic, Abilify is prescribed for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and other mental and psychological disorders. Abilify’s manufacturer, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. teamed up with California-based, digital medicine company, Proteus Digital Health, to transform the already popular pill into a futuristic version of itself. Proteus’s contribution to this effort was a one-square millimeter digital sensor—the size of a grain of sand. When a patient swallows a sensor-infused pill, stomach acids activate an electronic signaling device. The patient must affix a small patch to their rib cage (replaced every seven days) that transmits information from the now-beaming pill to the doctor, showing that the patient is compliant with medication directives.
With half of all medication-prescribed patients failing to follow instructions for proper dosage, this information is supposed to help doctors properly respond to patients should their conditions worsen due to not taking their medications. Biometric data such as date and time of pill ingestion, and patient mood and activity level, are transmitted via Bluetooth to a cellphone app on the patient’s phone, which the patient can also use to make notes relevant to their treatment. The data is then transmitted to a database where authorized individuals can access and analyze it to make decisions regarding care.
There is a lot at stake—including huge sums of money—in getting people to take their drugs as prescribed. According to the PubMed review Adherence and Health Care Costs, “Patient non-adherence to prescribed medications is associated with poor therapeutic outcomes, progression of disease, and an estimated burden of billions per year in avoidable health care costs.” What incentives have been marketed to health care practitioners, who arguably benefit from some of the largess of this wasteful spending? A 2008 article published in the drug industry journal Pharma Marketing News stated that an 18% improvement in medication compliance would translate into increased revenues for doctors and health care services of approximately $8000 per patient per year.
The Dawn of Transhumanism
These are just some of the reasons being argued in favor of the proliferation of transhuman medicine. But what are some of the potential adverse health effects that could erupt? Abilify MyCite is being functionally tested by the first waves of new patients who opt-in voluntarily. With any new technology, bugs and functional defects are common, resolved with patches and updates sent out only after things have gone wrong. With live, human test subjects, many of whom suffer with symptoms of illnesses that, in the case of Abilify MyCite, include paranoid delusions and potentially self-harming behavior, what potential complications could result from a swallowed radio signal, beaming out sensitive biological data via the internet?
Ostensibly, Abilify was chosen for this pilot because patients prescribed this type of medication frequently have low compliance rates. However, many doctors have argued that manic depressives and schizophrenic patients are not well-suited for what is essentially a risk-intensive live trial, due to feelings of paranoia that often accompany manic episodes, including a belief they are being watched or monitored by outside agents. It’s easy to understand how medication with a built-in tracking and reporting device might cause these feelings to become triggered! It is too often the case in health care in the United States, that the focus of doctors is directed towards the bottom line first, with issues like optimizing patient outcomes and improving quality of care left out of the discussion entirely. However, this shift towards digitized medicine is not merely domestic; the European Union was the first to approve the Proteus device in 2010, indicating they intend to market the technology globally.
Other In-Human Technologies
The wonders of 3D printing have been making waves in the news for everything from low-cost homes to prosthetic limbs. But how would you feel about going in for a medical procedure and receiving printed cells? A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society reported on the ability of plastic antibodies that had been printed using a 3D printer and injected into the bloodstream, to effectively neutralize a toxic peptide (bee venom) also in the bloodstream of rodent test subjects. Researchers used a petrochemical plastic to create the antibodies, which they acknowledged would “accumulate in the liver.” Overall test results were considered favorable, due to the plastic parts’ ability to mimic the real thing. Researchers and investors are excited about other possibilities for 3D printing in health care, such as organ biofabrication, and even printing living cells with ink–a phenomenon called bioprinting.
While it is neither desirable nor wise to reject technological advancements out-of-hand, it may be time to ask ourselves whether we are being conditioned to accept transhumanism as evolution. Consider the current vaccine agenda. Compliance with the CDC 2017 immunization schedule for children from birth through 6 years requires 60+ vaccines be administered, purportedly to make them healthier than non-vaccinated or naturally-immunized children. Or, research into infusing drugs with nanobots, microscopic devices programmed to execute various tasks upon deployment in the bloodstream, such as cleaning up metabolic by-products of the drugs.
While the idea of being able to print bioidentical bones and teeth from our own genetic material seems very promising, there is great potential for tremendous downsides once we let this technological genie out of the bottle—and into our bloodstreams. Wherever there are large sums of money invested, there will be bad actors who use the appearance of benevolence to take advantage of people’s vulnerability, especially during times of illness. When your insurance company offers you a big discount on your policy premium if you will agree to try a new “hi-tech” version of your regular medicine, one that works through an app you can download to your phone, ask yourself if this is one modern trend that could quietly pass you by.
 Variations in patients' adherence to medical recommendations: a quantitative review of 50 years of research. DiMatteo MR Med Care. 2004 Mar; 42(3):200-9.