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Ali Rezai, M.D., holds a Celero Systems VM Pill in his palm.

Early WVU research shows ingestible “smart pill” may detect signs of overdose

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In a potential breakthrough for those suffering with opioid use disorder (OUD), the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) announced a first-in-human study using an innovative smart pill technology to measure and monitor vital signs that can help identify early indications of an overdose. The promising results are featured as the cover story of the November issue of Device, a monthly journal publishing the applied research needed to make groundbreaking fundamental research into tomorrow’s cutting-edge technology.

In this study, 10 participants undergoing sleep studies at the WVU Medicine Sleep Evaluation Center swallowed a Celero Systems Vitals Monitoring Pill (VM Pill), a device the size of a vitamin capsule that contains wireless sensors. Once ingested, the pill temporarily resides in the gastrointestinal tract, detecting respiration, heart rate, temperature, and gastric motility from inside the patient’s body. The study demonstrated that the VM Pill was able to accurately detect when the participants’ breathing slowed or stopped.

“This technology has the potential to transform how we monitor vital signs in patients by having the capability to measure respiration, heart rate, and other key body functions from an ingestible pill in people’s natural environment outside of the clinic or the hospital,” Ali Rezai, M.D., executive chair of the RNI, said. “The results are encouraging and provide us with new capabilities to help those at risk for overdose.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 100,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. alone in 2022, along with an estimated 800,000 nonfatal overdoses.

“Seeing first-in-human data is always exciting, but even more so when it advances a product that can save lives in the opioid epidemic,” Ben Pless, CEO and founder of Celero Systems, RNI’s partner in the study, said. “We are fortunate to have the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute as our partner for this first in human study. RNI’s clinical and research expertise are world-class.”

In a follow-up study conducted at the WVU RNI, individuals with opioid use disorder ingested the VM Pill while in a residential addiction treatment setting.

“Initial data collected from the VM Pill study for addiction is promising,” James Mahoney, Ph.D., clinical neuropsychologist and director of addictions research at the RNI, said.

The data from that study will be made available in the coming months.

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