Researchers in the US have developed a high-tech camera you can swallow that takes detailed images of the insides of the gullet (esophagus) and stomach. Promising results of a small study in 13 people suggest the device may offer a quicker, cheaper, safer, more comfortable way to detect the early signs of cancer of the esophagus than endoscopy, where a camera and light on the end of a thin tube is pushed down the gullet, often under sedation.
The researchers, from the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School, report the study in the 13 January online issue of Nature Medicine.
Screening Tool for Barrett’s Esophagus
For their study, the researchers tested the device as a potential screening tool for Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition usually caused by repeated exposure to stomach acid.
Barrett’s esophagus is uncommon in women, and current recommendations call for endoscopic screening of men with chronic, frequent heartburn and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The hope is that the capsule camera will offer a much quicker, easier, and more comfortable way of screening for the condition. A way that does not require an endoscope specialist and equipment, thereby making it more affordable as a mass screening tool.
Co-author Norman Nishioka, a Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine doctor at MGH, says in a statement:
“An inexpensive, low-risk device could be used to screen larger groups of patients, with the hope that close surveillance of patients found to have Barrett’s could allow us to prevent esophageal cancer or to discover it at an earlier, potentially curable stage.”
“But we need more studies to see if that hope would be fulfilled,” he adds.
Tethered Camera Uses Laser Technology
The camera, which is about the size of a large vitamin pill, uses optical lasers to take detailed, microscopic images of the esophageal wall.
It “doesn’t require patient sedation, a specialized setting and equipment, or a physician who has been trained in endoscopy,” says corresponding author Gary Tearney, a professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and a Research Scholar at MGH.
“By showing the three-dimensional, microscopic structure of the esophageal lining, it reveals much more detail than can be seen with even high-resolution endoscopy,” he adds.
The camera contains OFDI (optical frequency domain imaging) technology comprising a rapidly rotating tip that emits a laser beam of near-infrared light. Sensors on the camera then record the light that is reflected back from the esophageal lining.