Researchers at George Washington University recently tested a method for remotely driving a miniature video capsule into problem areas of the stomach.
Medical technology company AnX Robotica created the capsule endoscopy system used in the study, called NaviCam. The company also funded the research.
Physicians can direct the capsule to potential problem areas to visualize and photograph them. The technology utilizes an external magnet and handheld video game-style joysticks. Altogether, it enables physicians to move the capsule in three dimensions within the stomach, nearing the capabilities of traditional, tube-based endoscopy.
Andrew Meltzer, a professor of emergency medicine at the GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences, led the research. According to GW’s website, he gained interest in the technology after seeing the barriers of a traditional endoscopy. Meltzer wanted to find less invasive ways to visualize the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract for patients with suspected internal bleeding.
“A traditional endoscopy is an invasive procedure for patients, not to mention it is costly due to the need for anesthesia and time off work” said Meltzer. “If larger studies can prove this method is sufficiently sensitive to detect high-risk lesions, magnetically controlled capsules could be used as a quick and easy way to screen for health problems in the upper GI tract such as ulcers or stomach cancer.”
About the capsule endoscopy technology
According to GW, the research marks the first study testing magnetically controlled capsule endoscopy in the U.S.
The external magnet enables the painless driving of the capsule. It can visualize all anatomic areas of the stomach and record video and photograph possible bleeding, inflammatory or malignant lesions. Meltzer says patients can swallow the capsule and receive a diagnosis on the spot. It eliminates the need for a second appointment for a traditional endoscopy and can save lives, he adds.
The joystick portion of the system requires time and training, but GW mentioned software under development that uses AI to self-drive the capsule. At the push of a button, the capsule could reach all parts of the stomach and record potential risky abnormalities. Videos could also transmit to a gastroenterologist for off-site review.
Meltzer and colleagues evaluated 40 patients at a physician office building using the capsule endoscopy. They said the doctor could direct the capsule to all major parts of the stomach with a 95% visualization rate. In these cases, the ER physician drove the capsules and an attending, off-site gastroenterologist reviewed the study reports.
The team also provided participants with a follow-up endoscopy to compare it to the new method. They reported that the capsule didn’t miss any high-risk lesions, and said 80% of patients preferred the capsule to traditional endoscopy. GW said the team observed no safety problems with their new method.
Meltzer warns that the pilot study may not provide the full picture. In order to determine the method’s effectiveness against endoscopy, the team must conduct a much larger trial with more patients. Additionally, GW said it has a major limitation: the inability to perform biopsies of detected lesions.