Scientists have used a tiny ‘Capsule Robot’ to successfully perform intricate manoeuvres inside the large intestine. The capsule is guided by an external magnet attached to an 18-millimetre robotic arm.
Researchers hope the capsule robot could be used safely and effectively in the future on humans to identify and remove pre-cancerous lesions and tumours detected during colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy is a test that allows doctor to look at the inner lining of the large intestine.
Researchers at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center used magnets to guide the tethered “capsule robot” through a pig’s colon.
“Not only is the capsule robot able to actively maneuver through the GI tract to perform diagnostics, it is also able to perform therapeutic maneuvers, such as biopsies of tissue or polyp removal, due to the tether — something that other capsule devices are unable to do,” lead researcher Dr. Keith Obstein explained.
His team said the magnetized capsule robot is 0.7 inches long and inserted rectally. It’s then guided through the colon by using an external magnet that’s attached to a robotic arm.
The capsule also has an attached tether that is much smaller in diameter than conventional endoscopes used for conoloscopies.
The researchers successfully tested the capsule robot dozens of times in the pig’s colon.
Obstein’s team was to present the findings Monday at the Digestive Diseases Week meeting, in Chicago.
“There’s no doubt in the value of colonoscopies to keep people healthy through preventive screening for colon cancer, but many individuals still avoid this procedure, because of fear of the test itself, perceived discomfort or the risk of sedation,” said Obstein, who’s an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt.
“We developed this capsule robot to make traversing the GI tract much easier, for both the clinician and patient,” he explained in a meeting news release.
Besides being much smaller than an endoscope, the capsule approach has other benefits for patients, Obstein said.
“Since the external magnet pulls the capsule robot with the tether segment from the front or head of the capsule, instead of a physician pushing the colonoscope from behind as in traditional endoscopy, we’re able to avoid much of the physical pressure that is placed on the patient’s colon — possibly reducing the need for sedation or pain medication,” he said.
According to the researchers, human trials of the capsule robot are expected to begin at the end of 2018. Because this research was presented at a medical meeting, it should also be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Two experts in gastroenterology said the new technology might encourage more people to undergo colon cancer screening.
“Robotic technology has already been proven to show marked improvement and satisfaction in patients undergoing surgical procedures,” noted Dr. Jules Garbus. He helps direct colorectal surgery at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.