One big problem with gastrointestinal-tract ailments is that the drugs used to fight them are often absorbed or destroyed by the stomach before reaching their target. The way to home in on this area is for the patient to swallow a long tube, which can be maneuvered into place before medicine is fed through it.
Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo and that city's Millard Fillmore Hospital have devised a better way--a "smart" pill to deliver drugs to digestive-tract targets without a medical sword-swallowing act. The pill holds a tiny radio transmitter whose signal is tracked by a receiver and antennas built into a vest the patient wears. A small computer plots the pill's location and triggers a propulsion system that ejects the medicine. The technique could be useful in battling intestinal ailments such as Crohn's disease or as a painless alternative to injecting insulin to treat diabetes. Clinical trials could start early in 1992.