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Would you swallow this camera-in-a-pill?

Italian researchers have designed a new camera-in-a-pill which can move or stop inside your body according to what your doctors want to see and which is radio-controlled. Human trials should begin soon.
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Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

Endoscopy is a generic term for minimally invasive surgery of any part of the body. Instead of a colonoscopy, which can make you feel very uncomfortable, with endoscopy surgery, very small instruments, such as cameras, are inserted through small incisions to operate with minimal damage to healthy areas. But until now, these cameras were out of control after you swallowed them. According to New Scientist, this is no longer true. Italian researchers have designed a new camera-in-a-pill which can move or stop according to what your doctors want to see and which is radio-controlled. Human trials should begin soon.

Here is how current cameras operate, according to New Scientist.

Existing camera capsules designed to take images of the intestine cannot be controlled externally, so they simply drift through the gut along with everything else. "It's like watching the view from a train window," says the bot's developer, Arianna Menciassi of the Sant' Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy. "If you see something of interest, there's no way to turn back and get a better look."

With her colleagues at the Center of Research In Microengineering (CRIM), she designed a new kind of radio-controlled clamping capsule able to stop or move inside your body when your doctors wants to see a particular area.

Below is a picture of the clamping capsule prototype in action with its protruded gripper in open position (Credit: CRIM).

The clamping capsule prototype in action

And don't be too afraid by this gripper. Here are the real dimensions (in millimeters) of this capsule. It is even shown on the top of a coin of one cent of a euro (which is smaller than a U.S. cent) (Credit: CRIM).

The real dimensions of the clamping capsule prototype

Here are some more details from New Scientist.

The radio-controlled crawling capsule has six legs, each with tiny hooks on the end. These help prevent the device slipping on mucus in the intestine as it moves along, but are too small to damage the soft tissues, says Menciassi. The capsule can park at any site of interest by releasing a clamp with two 5-millimetre-long jaws, each with teeth. These grab onto the gut wall tightly enough to resist the muscular pulsations trying to push the device along.

According to Menciassi, these cameras should not be painful. Maybe, but first, they need to go through human trials -- and then be approved by medical regulation authorities.

For more information, the research paper about these cameras has been published by the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering under the name "Shape memory alloy clamping devices of a capsule for monitoring tasks in the gastrointestinal tract" (Volume 15, Issue 11, Pages 2045-2055, November 2005). Here are two links to the abstract and to the full paper (PDF format, 11 pages, 797 KB).

The above images were extracted from this paper, which is freely available, but only for 30 days after its online publication, which was September 20, 2005.

Sources: Zeeya Merali, New Scientist, October 2, 2005; and various web sites

You'll find related stories by following the links below.

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