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Innovative Capsule Robot for Performing Efficient Colonoscopy

A new study has demonstrated that an eighteen millimeter magnetized capsule colonoscope coupled with standard medical instruments can successfully perform complex maneuvers inside the colon when it is guided through an external magnet fixed to a robotic arm.

Scientists are convinced that this technique will minimize the prospective inconvenience of colonoscopies and will enable many people to undergo the life-saving screening test. The innovative research was exhibited at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2017, the largest international convention of academics, researchers and physicians in the areas of gastroenterology, endoscopy, hepatology and gastrointestinal surgery.

Scientists expect that the capsule robot, inserted rectally, can be used on humans in the future in an effective and safe manner to spot and eliminate pre-cancerous lesions and tumors observed at the time of colonoscopy.

There’s no doubt in the value of colonoscopies to keep people healthy through preventive screening for colon cancer, but many individuals still avoid this procedure, because of fear of the test itself, perceived discomfort or the risk of sedation. We developed this capsule robot to make traversing the GI tract much easier, for both the clinician and patient.

Dr Keith Obstein, MD, MPH, FASGE

Keith Obstein, MD, MPH, FASGE, is the corresponding author of the study as well as associate Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN.

Dr Obstein and his colleagues investigated the capsule robot whose tether has a diameter smaller than traditional endoscopes, 30 times in the colon of a pig. The researchers noted that the capsule robot had the ability to carry out the maneuver of retroflexion, where the robot bends backward on its own, that is, autonomously/autopilot, at the press of a button to provide a 'reverse-view' of the colon wall to the Endoscopist.

Not only is the capsule robot able to actively maneuver through the GI tract to perform diagnostics, it is also able to perform therapeutic maneuvers, such as biopsies of tissue or polyp removal, due to the tether—something that other capsule devices are unable to do. Since the external magnet pulls the capsule robot with the tether segment from the front or head of the capsule, instead of a physician pushing the colonoscope from behind as in traditional endoscopy, we’re able to avoid much of the physical pressure that is placed on the patient’s colon—possibly reducing the need for sedation or pain medication.

Dr Keith Obstein, MD, MPH, FASGE

The researchers discovered that the autonomously regulated capsule robot successfully performed all 30 retroflexions. It took an average of 12 seconds to complete the retroflexion, a time period well within the expectations of the research team.

Following the success of the investigations in a pig, Dr Obstein suggested that the research team perform human trials, anticipated to start at the end of 2018. For the time being, his colleagues will pursue optimization of the algorithms that regulate the robotic arm to enhance their ability in maneuvering the capsule-based robotic system.

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