Robot Pills Can Make Drugs Work Faster, Scientists Say

Robot pills may help drugs work faster in patients through self-automation.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

The medical and pharmaceutical industries are constantly working to provide new and enhanced medicines. Now, scientists are claiming that robot pills can make drugs work faster. If they can, it could potentially help millions, but more study needs to be done on potential side-effects.

Robot pills are a new concept designed to help deliver drugs that are more difficult to absorb, such as small-molecular medicines and insulin. Instead of ingesting a simple capsule that will dissolve in the body, these new pills include a robotic cap that twists off by spinning and tunneling inside the body to offer relief faster. It more easily travels through the mucus barrier, which often traps or delays protein-based drugs.

These new robot pills were designed at MIT and have already been tested on animals. It has proven to enhance the delivery of drugs, even delivering up to 20 and 40 times more medicine than current capsules. Unfortunately just what happens to the spinning robotic cap after the substance has been delivered was not noted in the initial study. 

Scientists have also yet to discuss concerns about how the human body often rejects foreign materials and whether these robot pills may pose long-term threats if not surgically removed or expelled through other means. What they have noted is that this new means of administering medication doesn’t have to just target the mucus barrier, it could be redirected to burrow through a patient’s stomach or colon. While this idea lends doctors hope for expanding treatments, it also opens up more biowarfare fears which could produce catastrophic results for anyone potentially targeted in that hypothetical situation by an unknown, theoretical group.

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In addition, the United States has been performing bio-weapon tests for years, and there is the example of the notorious Tuskegee Study in which hundreds of Black men were deliberately infected with syphilis to study the disease. The possibility of whether robot pills can be hacked into is a major issue that has yet to be explored. 

In addition, Americans’ trust in scientists has dropped. Due to conflicting reports from doctors, censorship, and concerns over the right to medical choice, a PEW Research Center survey confirmed that just 29% of adults in the United States greatly trust scientists working in medical fields. This dropped from 40% reported back in 2020 and isn’t likely to open the public up to the idea of accepting robot pills anytime soon. 

It is worth noting that this lack of trust is directly connected by many studies to rampant medical misinformation spread via social media, much of it connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the United Nations and the World Health Organization have labeled the unprecedented spread of misinformation as its own kind of pandemic and severely hazardous to the health of the populace.

While scientists are hailing the advances made by their robot pill research, selling medicine that can tunnel through a person’s body may prove to be difficult. What the short and long-term side effects of these new pills are will likely determine the public’s view of adding a further technological element to ingesting medicine. Further research is likely to be done and may or may not sway patient trust.