Smart Meds

Get Ready for Pills Programmed to Respond to Your Cells’ Individual Needs

New research uses strands of DNA to create logic gates.

10. 17. 18 / Jon Christian
TBIT/Victor Tangermann

Pill Pusher

Smart pills can already track whether you’re taking your medication and help regulate your bowel movements.

The next evolution: programmable smart pills that tailor medical treatments in response to signals from individual cells.

The preprint server arXiv recently published a paper describing work that could lead to the creation of such pills — and they have to potential to forever change what it means to be human.

Molecular Computation

On Wednesday, MIT Tech Review ran a compelling overview of the research. According to that report, researchers from the University of Chicago figured out a way to trick strands of DNA into behaving like switches — a development in a field known as molecular computation.


The hope is that we can combine these switches into logic gates — the same basic computational building blocks that power the electronics in your computer or smartphone.

Eventually, the Chicago researchers imagine, we could  incorporate those DNA-powered computers into pills, programming them to keep watch on our bodies and release medications in response to signs of distress from individual cells.

Body Load

This research is interesting on a number of levels.

Not only could it lead to incredible medical treatments, it also conjures up visions of a future in which tiny computers reside alongside the natural cells and microflora in the human body — a development that could call into question what exactly it means to be human.


READ MORE: DNA-Based Molecular Computing Will Pave the Way for Programmable Pills [MIT Tech Review]

More on smart pills: Edible Tech Is Finally Useful, Is Here to Help You Poop

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