Blog | Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Camera pills get remote control

It's impressive enough that scientists have developed tiny pill-size cameras that allow physicians to view images inside a patient's intestine--now, in the not-to-distant future those cameras may come with remote control, allowing physicians to steer and stop the device as they would a vehicle.

Currently, patients can swallow a camera--the same way they would a hard candy--which transmits images to an external receiver attached to a belt worn by the patient, allowing the physician to identify any hemorrhages or cysts. But until now there has been no way to control the camera's speed as it travels through the esophagus to the stomach. Thus, patients with potential problems in the esophagus or stomach still have to swallow a thick endoscope.

Now, those hard-to-get images are within reach, according to researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering in Sankt Ingbert who developed the idea and are working to refine it with engineers from the manufacturer Given Imaging, the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg and the Royal Imperial College in London.

“In future, doctors will be able to stop the camera in the esophagus, move it up and down and turn it, and thus adjust the angle of the camera as required,” said research team leader Dr. Frank Volke, in a news release. “We have developed a magnetic device roughly the size of a bar of chocolate. The doctor can hold it in his hand during the examination and move it up and down the patient’s body. The camera inside follows this motion precisely,” Dr. Volke explained.

Researchers have already tried out a prototype on themselves and reported that the camera passed the test of staying in the esophagus for about 10 minutes, even if the patient is sitting upright.