Health Scan: Swallow an ‘improved’ camera pill

A researcher at Tel Aviv University PillCam technologies to the next level.

January 14, 2012 22:25
3 minute read.
Medicine [illustrative]

Medicine pills drugs prescription 311. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)


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The PillCam capsule that people swallow to provide images of pathology in the gastrointestinal system – developed by the Israeli company Given Imaging – is known and used around the world. The PillCam system travels at random and snaps pictures every half second to give doctors an overall view of the intestines.

But now a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s school of mechanical engineering claims he and his colleagues are pushing the technology ahead by developing a capsule endoscope guided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It moves through the digestive tract to detect problems independent of any attachments, says Dr. Gabor Kosa, who adds that unlike the existing capsule, the new wireless capsule will use both MRI and and electronic signals manipulated by those operating the capsule to forge a more precise and deliberate path.

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Kosa maintains that it will be a more accurate way for doctors to get a good look at the digestive tract, where difficult-to-diagnose tumors or wounds may be hidden. It will also be used for biopsies and local drug delivery, with the Giving Imaging product does not. The technology, which was recently reported in Biomedical Microdevices, was developed in collaboration with Peter Jakab, an engineer from the surgical planning laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

What sets this endoscope apart is its ability to actively explore the digestive tract under the direction of a doctor, says Kosa. To do this, the device relies on the magnetic field of the MRI machine as a “driving force. An MRI has a very large constant magnetic field,” he explains. “The capsule needs to navigate according to this field, like a sailboat sailing with the wind.”

To help the capsules “swim” with the magnetic current, the researchers have given them “tails,” a combination of copper coils and flexible polymer.

The magnetic field creates a vibration in the tail that allows for movement, and electronics and microsensors embedded in the capsule allow the capsule’s operator to manipulate the magnetic field that guides the movement of the device. The use of copper, a non-ferro magnetic material, circumvents other diagnostic challenges posed by MRI, Kosa adds. While most metals interfere with MRI by obscuring the picture, copper appears as only a minor blot on otherwise clear film. The ability to drive the capsule, Kosa says, will not only lead to better diagnosis capabilities, but patients will experience a less invasive procedure in a fraction of the time.

In the lab in Boston, the TAU researcher and his colleagues have tested the driving mechanism of the capsule in an aquarium inside the MRI. The results have shown that the capsule can successfully be manipulated using a magnetic field. Moving forward, the researchers are hoping to further develop the capsule’s endoscopic and signalling functions. Kosa, who is a new member of TAU’s faculty, says the project is part of a bright future for the field of microrobotics. At the university, his new research lab, called RBM2S, focuses on microsystems and robotics for biomedical applications, and an educational robotics lab will teach future robotics experts studying at TAU.

Two patients who undergo the same type of surgery with the same clinical results may each regard their own operation differently, with one saying it was successful while the other is disappointed. A researcher at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva who studied 63 patients between the ages of 18 and 68 says that the patient’s personality, formed at a very young age, is the reason for these differences. Prof. Eitan Yaniv, director of the nasal and sinus institute in the hospital’s ear, nose and throat department, and Hamutal Saragusti studied patients who underwent surgery to separate the two sides of the nasal septum. They were asked before and after the operation to answer questions on their quality of life, pain and ability to breathe freely. They also underwent a test reflecting their interpersonal communication abilities and a Rorschach test, the results of which were compared with the reactions to black blotted images of people from the general Israeli population.

The Beilinson researchers found that while most of the patients’ objective condition was improved by the surgery, those who had an anxious personality type were much less satisfied by the results than those who did not; their higher satisfaction rate correlated to the rating they gave their quality of life and pain.

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