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Joystick-Controlled Video Capsule Promises to Replace Traditional Endoscopy

In the United States, approximately seven million patients undergo endoscopy procedures annually. However, a team of researchers from George Washington University (GWU) has recently developed an innovative magnetically-controlled ingestible video capsule that promises to revolutionize the field of endoscopy. Unlike existing ingestible capsules, this groundbreaking technology grants doctors precise control over its movement within the digestive system, marking a significant advancement in diagnostic capabilities.

Limitations of Existing Ingestible Capsules: While ingestible video capsules already exist, they suffer from a significant drawback—once they enter the stomach, doctors have no means of controlling their movement. These capsules rely solely on gravity and the natural peristaltic motions of the gut to navigate through the body. This lack of control hinders their effectiveness and limits the range of diagnostic procedures that can be performed using this technology.

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Drawbacks of Traditional Endoscopy Procedures: On the other hand, conventional tube-based endoscopy procedures are highly invasive, costly, and time-consuming, often requiring anesthesia. This becomes particularly burdensome for patients experiencing severe stomach pain or those diagnosed with conditions such as stomach cancer, who must undergo multiple appointments for a comprehensive endoscopy examination. These limitations necessitate the development of a less invasive and more patient-friendly alternative.

The GWU Breakthrough: In response to these challenges, the GWU research team has introduced a revolutionary technique that empowers patients to take a capsule and receive an immediate diagnosis. Furthermore, doctors can easily control the movement of the proposed video capsule using a joystick, enhancing diagnostic accuracy and procedural flexibility.

Andrew Meltzer, a professor of emergency medicine at GW School of Medicine and one of the researchers involved in the project, explains the potential impact of magnetically-controlled capsules: “These capsules could serve as a quick and easy screening tool for health issues in the upper gastrointestinal tract, such as ulcers or stomach cancer.” The ability to swiftly screen for such conditions using this non-invasive method holds tremendous promise for early detection and timely intervention.

How does the new endoscopy capsule work?

Endoscopy is a medical procedure in which a doctor uses a camera-equipped device (a tube or a capsule) to look at the upper part of the digestive tract in humans. It allows doctors to detect anomalies in the body that lead to acute stomach pain, ulcers, gastric cancer, internal bleeding, and various other diseases. 

During their study, the GWU researchers wanted to develop a less invasive, hassle-free, and easily controllable endoscopy method. Their primary aim was to combine the capabilities of a tube-based endoscopy and the ease of a video capsule.

They created an ingestible capsule with a camera system and external magnets to achieve this extraordinary feat. Hand-held joysticks could easily control the movement of the magnets. So instead of relying on gravity and gut flow, the capsule now moved as per the will of the doctor who controlled the joystick. 

The researchers performed an interesting experiment to test their magnetically-controlled video capsules against the traditional endoscopy method. They used both techniques to examine 40 patients with stomach-related health problems.

“The doctor could direct the capsule to all major parts of the stomach with a 95 percent rate of visualization,” without causing any pain. Moreover, “No high-risk lesions were missed with the new method, and 80 percent of the patients preferred the capsule method to the traditional endoscopy,” the researchers note

This is the first study to demonstrate magnetically-controlled endoscopy in the US.

Limitations of magnet-driven endoscopy

Meltzer reveals that his team often encounters patients with severe ulcers or bleeding problems. Traditional endoscopy is not viable for many such patients because it might escalate their condition.

The proposed ingestible capsule doesn’t have any such risks associated with them. It’s possibly the least invasive endoscopy technique. However, it does have some limitations. For instance, currently, the video capsule can’t perform a biopsy of the identified lesions in the stomach.

Additionally, before giving the capsules to patients for endoscopy, doctors must first become proficient with the joystick controls to guarantee complete safety. Training thousands of physicians already accustomed to traditional endoscopic techniques will be challenging. 

The researchers believe that an AI-based program could allow the capsules to move autonomously. However, the AI might also make the capsules very expensive, and the doctors will still require some training to supervise the operations. 

Meltzer suggests this is a first step towards a better and faster endoscopy procedure—the need to conduct more trials involving many patients to discover more pros and cons of the capsules. 

AnX Robotica, a Texas-based AI company, owns the capsule design. Hopefully, this innovation will play a crucial role in making endoscopy more accessible, feasible, and safer for patients across the globe.

The study is published in the journal iGIE.