By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Cancer
A new, remote-controlled, pill-sized robot that has a camera and moving legs has been developed to scan for cancer in the stomach or colon.
Italian scientists sought to find an alternative to the dangerous, invasive and uncomfortable colonoscopy procedure, which traditionally uses a flexible tube, called a snake, with a camera fixed to the end.
The movable legs of the 'spider pill' allow it to crawl about, offering doctors more freedom to examine the colon or other areas for cancerous growths.
The device, which is comprised of 72 tiny components, is controlled wirelessly from the outside, and can scurry along in any direction (including against gravity) at 50mm per minute.
Once the examination is finished, the spider pill exits the body naturally.
The device is detailed further in a paper written by researchers from the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, Italy; Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. and the Italian Institute of Technology Network in Genoa, Italy.
"We've tried to imitate [something] natural like a spider or insect so it can walk everywhere," project leader Elisa Buselli said to the BBC. "The examination will be easier for the medical doctor or the patient."
Pills containing cameras already exist, but those rely on peristalsis, or digestive muscle contractions, for movement.
This is considered the first such device whose locomotion can be controlled after it has been swallowed.
The scientists have already successfully tested the device on pigs.
Oct 14, 2009
This is a brilliant achievement. I have done sigmoidoscopies (a limited version to colonoscopy). The use of it and the interpretation would be easier and better than viewing a subject though a colonoscope and far more comfortable to the doctor and the patient.
My worry would be the small legs and if they could puncture the intestinal lining or get stuck and become a infection site. Those little legs look like needles at a distance.
I think it would be a challenge to engineer the unit to survive the elevated temperatures required to truly disinfect the unit in an autoclave; a disinfectant bath might be preferable, since I would think it must be, by design, resistant to fluid infiltration and damage. Having said that, I think it is great that we have such a benign, marginally-invasive detection technology on the docket, even though it does not also excise polyps as currently conceived. Most colonoscopies do not discover problems, and anything that diminishes the reluctance of patients to undergo the procedure - unless doing so proves necessary to save their lives, for which most patients would readily change their reluctance to willingness - is a good thing. Get this going in trials!
Most medical intstraments are re-usable. Washing and an autoclave take care of any cross contamination issues.
Are these intended to be single-use or can they be recycled? Seems to present a contamination/infection problem if these devices are re-used. Otherwise, one-time use will accelerate costs. How expensive are they?
I am a mathematician and have no special expertise in medicine. This idea strikes me as excellent. The only question is cost and convincing doctors to buy the hardware and learn to use it. What do you know about these issues?