A camera implanted in a pill that can be swallowed to detect gut and throat cancer by shining a fluorescent light has been developed by University of Glasgow researchers.
Although miniature cameras have become increasingly popular for medical uses in recent years, the tiny systems have so far been reliant on a small light source, restricting clinicians to conclusions based on what they can see in the spectrum of visible light.
In the past, fluorescence imaging technologies have been used for medical purposes, but have been too expensive, bulky and power consuming to be used in any setting other than laboratories and hospital examination rooms.
This type of light is capable of clearly identifying in patients the rich blood supplies that support cancers and help them to grow, but this can be missed by examination under visible light.
The researchers developed an advanced ‘semiconductor single-pixel imaging technique’ that can be used to image the inside of a patient’s body.
Research associate, Dr Mohammed Al-Rawhani said: “The system we’ve developed is small enough and power efficient enough to image the entire human gastrointestinal tract for up to 14 hours.
“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 oesophagus.
“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.
“It’s a valuable new technique which could help clinicians make fewer false positives and negatives in cancer diagnosis, which could lead to more effective treatment in the future.”
The researchers admit that while there is still some way to go before the technology will be ready for commercial production and clinical use, they are already in early talks with industry to bring a product to market.
They also said that the imaging capabilities of video-pill systems can be applied to new areas in the future such as ultrasound.