by Jim Caryl
A technique to ensure/encourage patient compliance was recently described on the Freakonomics blog. In the example they described a device that could be used to detect the metabolites (breakdown products) of TB medication in urine. It was developed by Jose Gomez-Marquez and colleagues at MIT’s ‘Innovations in International Health’ programme; a more detailed discussion of the history behind its development can be found at MobileActive.org. Biosensors such as these are these are nothing new of course, but it is the potential application that is interesting. Essentially it is a device that encodes a pattern, or series of numbers or code, that can only be revealed by urine from a patient who has been taking their medication. This pattern of number could be their entry to a ‘lottery’ or some other economically-driven, and presumably ethical, contest.
It is certainly an interesting idea and can be derivatised for numerous treatments that require patient compliance. As the Freakonomics blog describes, it is an excellent fusion of economics and science, using the tangible prospect of economic gain to encourage patients to address the rather esoteric long-term treatment of slow-healing bacterial infections such as TB.
It is one of a number of tactics, along with new drugs that reduce treatment time, that could be brought to bear in the light of the rather sombre report ‘Global Tuberculosis Control 2009‘ commissioned by WHO, which is discussed in an editorial in The Lancet (4th April edition).