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Health - Reuters
'Fantastic Voyage' Into Gut Nearer to Reality
1 hour, 9 minutes ago
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By E. J. Mundell

ORLANDO (Reuters Health) - Once the stuff of science fiction, tiny, remote-controlled capsules could soon be used to diagnose and even treat illnesses anywhere in the human gut, according to researchers.

 

Such a wireless (news - web sites), video-equipped capsule -- about half the size of a grape -- has been swallowed and tested in the first human volunteer, they reported here Monday at the annual Digestive Disease Week conference.

Using a radio-guided control box, the researchers were able to "move the capsule, go backwards and look at something again," said Dr. Annette Fritscher-Ravens of the University of London.

"It's the future of wireless capsule therapy," she said.

Until recently, patients with unexplained gastrointestinal illness had only a few options when it came to diagnosis -- CT scans or MRI, endoscopy, or surgical interventions. Each has its limitations, and researchers have long sought a method of clearly viewing the inside of the entire length of the gastrointestinal tract without having to resort to surgery.

Within the last decade, researchers developed tiny, video-equipped capsules that are swallowed and then passed through the body via the normal movement of the gut.

But relying on the gut to propel the capsule forward has had its problems.

"Sometimes it runs quickly or runs very little," Fritscher-Ravens said, which can keep the capsule sitting for hours in an area of little interest, while speeding it past areas doctors want to linger on.

What was needed was a method of controlling the capsule from the outside.

Fritscher-Ravens and her colleagues say they have patented just such a method. Using technology very similar to that found in TV remotes or electronic car-keys, they attached tiny electrodes to the front and rear portions of the video capsule, along with a tiny antenna. Using a drive/reverse switch, they have been able to steer and propel the capsule through the gut, lingering wherever a lesion or other suspicious formation occurs.

After first testing the device in pigs, "we were able, in man, to steer the capsule backwards and forwards and stop it," Fritscher-Ravens told reporters at the meeting.

Safety was always a concern, but the device only requires 5 milli-amps of power. "This is very, very little power -- much less power than would interfere with a heart rate or anything," the researcher said.

The capsule, which is meant to be disposable, safely passes through the gut and is flushed away with a regular bowel movement.

Speaking with Reuters Health, Fritscher-Ravens and co-researcher Dr. C. Paul Swain (who was the first human test subject) said they expect the device to go through further trials and then be submitted for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) within the next two to three years.

They have high hopes for the capsule. Someday, the device might be made to travel through the gut and grab tiny pieces of tissue for biopsy. It might even be used to treat disease, possibly eliminating the need for surgery, according to the researchers.

"Right now, with this capsule we can see (a lesion), but we can't treat it," Fritscher-Ravens said. However, she envisages a future where "you can swallow two capsules that come together, and then you can just fire a laser at the lesion."


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