While endoscopes give physicians a view into the interior of the GI tract, they are limited in the areas that they can reach and the imaging they can provide. Miniaturized imaging devices in the form of swallowable electronic pills have been around for a few years now. They move through the entirety of the GI tract, but there’s no way to focus their attention on a specific spot or to pause their movement.
Now, a collaboration of scientists from the U.S. and U.K. has developed an ingestible ultrasound imaging device that can be accurately moved around the colon using an external robot. The Sonopill, as the device is called, is intended to capture micro-ultrasound images of the intestines, which may help to avoid traditional endoscopies, while giving doctors a more nuanced way to analyze gastrointestinal tissues.
The Sonopill can be guided using so-called “intelligent magnetic manipulation”. The tiny device has a magnet built-in, and a robotic arm positioned outside of the patient has a series of magnets attached to its business end. The system can predict where the Sonopill will go when the robot moves its arm, and so it can gently move the device from one part of the GI tract to another.
While the navigation capabilities are immensely impressive, the greatest benefit to patients may be that the micro-ultrasound used by the device can gauge cellular changes associated with cancer better than other modalities.
“Previous studies showed that micro-ultrasound was able to capture high-resolution images and visualize small lesions in the superficial layers of the gut, providing valuable information about the early signs of disease,” said Professor Pietro Valdastri of the University of Leeds, one of the leaders of the study. “With this study, we show that intelligent magnetic manipulation is an effective technique to guide a micro-ultrasound capsule to perform targeted imaging deep inside the human body.”
The researchers hope that their technology will find its way into routine check-up exams, allowing clinicians to spot diseases at their earliest stages.
Study in journal Science Robotics: Intelligent magnetic manipulation for gastrointestinal ultrasound
Via: University of Leeds