Scientists develop remote-controlled pill-shaped camera to diagnose digestive issues

It could lead to a simpler alternative to endoscopy procedures.

AnX Robotica

Ingestible video capsule endoscopes have been around for a while, but they’re severely limited and not controllable by physicians, relying entirely on gravity and the digestive system for movement. Researchers may have just gotten around that limitation by developing a pill-shaped capsule that allows for remote control, as announced by the GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

This tech lets physicians quite literally drive a miniature video capsule, called the NaviCam, throughout the digestive system to visualize and photograph potential problem areas, offering a potential alternative to the traditional endoscopy. It uses an external magnet and video game style joysticks for movement.

“A traditional endoscopy is an invasive procedure for patients, not to mention it is costly due to the need for anesthesia and time off work,” said Andrew Meltzer, a professor of Emergency Medicine at the GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences, in GW's press release. “Magnetically controlled capsules could be used as a quick and easy way to screen for health problems in the upper GI tract such as ulcers or stomach cancer.”

This technology is still in the testing phase though results have been positive. Meltzer and his colleagues at medical technology company AnX Robotica conducted a 40-person study and found that doctors could accurately control the capsule to all major parts of the stomach with a 95 percent rate of successful visualization. These patients also underwent a traditional endoscopy to confirm that the camera didn’t miss any high-risk lesions.

The potential benefits for patients are varied, as the camera’s designed to pick up bleeding, inflammation, and lesions. It can also automatically transmit videos and images off-site for further review. The official study indicates that using a camera capsule offers no health risks, though the tech doesn’t allow for biopsies, as it degrades inside of the body. Researchers note this pilot testing program is still in the beginning stages and a “much bigger trial with more patients” is on the horizon.