Scientists have developed a miniature imaging system that can be swallowed by patients in order to image the gastrointestinal tract. The device is described in a study published online in the journal Nature Medicine.
The miniature endoscope fits in a small capsule that can be easily swallowed by a patient and is attached to 1 mm-wide cable, which allows physicians to reel the camera back up the GI tract while it's taking images. Since the device is less invasive than traditional endoscopy, it can be used without sedating the patient.
According to an announcement from Cambridge, Mass.-based medical device developer NinePoint Medical, which has licensed the technology for commercial development, the miniature endoscope creates detailed, microscopic, 3-D images of the esophageal wall.
For the study, the researchers tested the system in 13 patients--seven healthy volunteers and six suffering from a precancerous condition known as Barrett's esophagus--without sedation. The physicians were able to image the esophagus in less than one minute, and were able to image subsurface structures that allowed them to identify tissue changes that indicate the presence of disease.
Michaline Gora, a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and the study's lead author, said in a recent Popular Mechanics article that while the device is used without sedating the patient, she was concerned about how well patients would be able to cope with swallowing a small device attached to a thin cable.
"Sometimes, the procedure triggered a gag reflex in the patient," Gora said. "This can be taken care of just by breathing steadily, in and out. It opens up the GI tract's sphincters and allows the endoscope to pass through."
The authors reported that study subjects who previously had undergone endoscopy preferred the new procedure.