The Pill Camera of the Future

As advances in the fields of medicine and electronics grow more sophisticated and complex, our physicians will be like modern quasi-Gods. Many of their medical tools will be more strange and exotic than those used in science-fiction movies. One such health tool that grabbed my attention is the Pill Camera used to detect esophageal cancer.

The scientific community at the University of Washington is currently developing a pill-sized camera which would travel through the body looking for signs of disease.

Doctors could eventually use the tiny capsule—just 15mm long—to diagnose cancer. This camera is so small that that it can be comfortably swallowed by any normal patient.

It will contain a micro-chip which functions as a camera, producing pictures which would, either be beamed directly to a computer, or be collected after the capsule has passed through the body. Doctors would then be able to identify disease in patients.

The capsule, which builds on technology developed by NASA to measure temperature inside astronauts’ bodies, would take the place of endoscopes traditionally used by doctors to see inside patients. It is hoped the tiny camera will be able to pick up the presence of chemicals, called metabolites, which indicate a particular disease is present in the body.

A combination of two existing, proven technologies—cameras on chips and mini, portable devices for analyzing data—are being combined for the first time in the “lab-in-a-pill”, as it has been dubbed by Dr. David Cumming, lecturer in electronics and electronic engineering at Glasgow University.

A mini-lens on the tip of the capsule would be connected to a tiny “engine” running off electrical signals. An antenna would take in the electric signals and send out the data collected and the “brain” behind the whole system would be a micro-chip operating with hi-tech fluids.

Developing the power source is a key challenge facing the scientists, who are applying for a grant of £1.4m from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to develop the capsule. Efforts are focusing on battery technology or some form of electronic smart card.

Dr Cumming said the technology could eventually be used to allow diagnosis by GPs rather than hospital consultants, or even for the patients themselves to collect data. It is expected to take three to five years to develop the capsule.

Cancer has been responsible for the loss and pain of many people around the world. In Panama, the statistics of persons dying from cancer are alarming. I hope inventions like this one will someday eradicate this disease from the surface of our planet. The future certainly looks promising and exciting.

Related literature: Pill-sized cameras can be swallowed

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