Today, doctors can capture images of the inside of a patient's intestinal tract through the use of small swallowable cameras.
Unfortunately, such cameras are unsuitable for examinations of the oesophagus and the stomach. They only take about three or four seconds to pass through the oesophagus - resulting in the production of less than twenty images. And once they reach the stomach, their roughly five-gram weight causes them to drop very quickly to the lower wall.
So for doctors to capture images of the oesophagus and the stomach, patients are still required to swallow rather thick endoscopes, which is a very uncomfortable procedure.
Now, however, all this could become a thing of the past, thanks to researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering. Working in collaboration with engineers from Given Imaging, the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg and Imperial College London, the researchers have developed a unique device to control the movement of these camera pills, allowing cameras to be steered and stopped where desired.
'In the future, doctors will be able to stop the camera in the oesophagus, move it up and down and turn it, and even adjust the angle of the camera as required,' said Fraunhofer's Dr. Frank Volke.
The magnetic device itself is roughly the size of a bar of chocolate. In use, a doctor moves it up and down over the patient’s body during the course of an examination. The camera, attracted to the magnet, follows the motion of the device precisely.
In all other respects, the steerable camera pill is constructed in much the same way as its predecessors: it consists of a camera, a transmitter that sends the images to a receiver, a battery and several cold-light diodes which flare up like a flashlight every time a picture is taken.
A prototype of the camera pill has already passed its first practical test. The researchers demonstrated that the camera can be kept in the oesophagus for about ten minutes, even if a patient is sitting upright.