Scottish researchers develop ingestible 'pill camera' that images non-visible light to detect cancer

Medtronic's ($MDT) ingestible PillCam can view the inside of the colon without sedation or invasive surgery, but the latest advance takes capsular endoscopy into the realm of imaging with nonvisible light, or light that isn't delectable using the naked eye.

In a journal published by Nature, researchers from the University of Glasgow in Scotland describe an ingestible pill camera that deploys fluorescent imaging, and could be used to diagnose cancer in the gastrointestinal tract.

"We've confirmed in the lab the ability of the system to image fluorescence 'phantoms'--mixtures of flavins and haemoglobins which mimic closely how cancers are affected by fluorescence in parts of the body like the intestines, the bowel and the esophagus," said research associate Dr. Mohammed Al-Rawhani, in a university news release. "The system could also be used to help track antibodies used to label cancer in the human body, creating a new way to detect of cancer."

The technology for viewing the inside of the body poses a threat to traditional, invasive endoscopes. "Current fluorescence endoscopes use externally fitted charge-coupled device (CCD) imagers. These devices are not suitable for capsule integration since they are fabricated in specialised processes that preclude integration of the required interface electronics on to a single chip," the journal article says.

The researchers were able to overcome the engineering challenges thanks to miniaturization techniques like the use of complementary metal oxide semiconductor technology.

The early-stage device could make advanced imaging accessible to more patients thanks to its safety and low cost. After all, duodenoscopes used to image the small intestine are the subject of a safety scare after their potential to spread deadly pathogens became public knowledge due to recent outbreaks at some hospitals. And other endoscopes are vulnerable to improper cleaning and disinfection as well.

University of Glasgow professor David Cumming, Chair of Electronic Systems, said in the news release, "There's still some way to go before it will be ready for commercial production and clinical use, but we're in early talks with industry to bring a product to market. We're also interested in expanding the imaging capabilities of video-pill systems to new areas such as ultrasound in the near future."

- here's the paper in Nature's Scientific Reports | here's a picture that describes the technology
- read the university release