Google mapping your way through a colonoscopy

Much like the way that Google Street View provides a 360-degree view of a road and its buildings, researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, are developing a similar "street-view" mapping tool to examine the colon.

"Unlike conventional colonoscopy, which only looks straight ahead, this new method can be likened to Google Street View, giving us a panoramic view of the colon and helping us identify the exact locations of suspicious growths or lesions," said Qiyin Fang, Ph.D., an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Biophotonics at McMaster University, in an announcement.

Fang and his colleagues have received a $194,000 grant from the Canadian Cancer Society to develop and test the new imaging technology. The idea behind the technology is to use a near-infrared light imager to take thousands of photographs and use blood vessels as the landmarks for developing a map of the colon.

The patterns of arteries and blood vessels in the colon are unique to each person, according to David Armstrong, a gastroenterologist at McMaster University, and part of the development team.

"We'll be able to see where they branch, where they join together, where there are different patterns of branching and joinings together, so we can construct what looks like a map of the colon," Armstrong told the Toronto Star. "And because it's likely to be unique as we go around [inside the colon], we'll be able to tell firstly how far the scope has gone in, and then secondly, if there is a unique pattern, like a street pattern, that you can look at and say, 'OK, I know where about in the colon that is.'"

Consequently, when a patient undergoes his next colonoscopy, physicians essentially will have a road map of that patient's colon with all of its distinguishing landmarks, that can help them to locate previously seen abnormalities, or to identify new lesions.

According to Fang, researchers expect to start testing the technology on animals in about 18 months. If successful, clinical trials on humans would begin in two or three years.

To learn more:
- see the announcement
- read the article in the Toronto Star

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