Consumable Camera to Offer Intestinal Tour

The camera pill is not larger than a candy. It can be swallowed by the patient. The doctor steers it through the esophagus and stomach with a magnetic device. (Image credit: Fraunhofer Institute of Biomedical Engineering)

Candy-size cameras can provide insiders-only tours of intestines. But downing one of these “pills” has not been what the doctor ordered for obtaining more than a fleeting glimpse of the esophagus or stomach en route to the lower digestive system.

This previous generation of consumable cameras generated two to four images per second. But they could not provide many, if any, usable images of the upper digestive system – they passed through the esophagus in only three or four seconds. And given their relatively heavy five-gram mass, they would settle on the stomach bottom. So patients had to swallow an uncomfortably thick endoscope for their doctor to study the lining of their esophagus or stomach.

The first control system for a steerable camera pill has emerged to overcome this limitation and inconvenience. Now a doctor may one day be able to manually control the location of this camera with a magnetic device the size of a chocolate bar. By moving this device up and down the patient’s body, the doctor can control the camera’s location in the upper digestive tract. And in a self-test, researchers kept the camera in an upright person’s esophagus for nearly ten minutes.

"In the future, doctors will be able to stop the camera in the esophagus, move it up and down and turn it, and thus adjust the angle of the camera as required," says team leader Dr. Frank Volke. "This allows them to make a precise examination of the junction between the esophagus and the stomach, for if the cardiac sphincter is not functioning properly, gastric acid comes up the esophagus and causes heartburn. In the long term, this may even cause cancer of the esophagus. Now, with the camera, we can even scan the stomach walls."

This device resulted from collaboration between German and British researchers and the manufacturer Given Imaging.