Brigham and Women's Hospital || Brigham and Women's HospitalBrigham and Women's HospitalAn MRI-Controlled Swimming Robotic Pill Camera

When I was a teenager I fell in love with Meg Ryan while watching her in the movie Inner Space. Also starring Martin Short and Dennis Quade, the film tells the story of a man in a spaceship/submarine (Quade) that has been miniaturized and injected into a person’s bloodstream (Short).

This science fiction story recently made the journey out of make-believe and into real life… well, sort of. It’s not actually a space ship, it doesn’t travel in the bloodstream, and there isn’t a miniature man inside it… but there is a person controlling it.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston have designed a swimming endoscopic capsule that can be controlled with an MRI machine. The energy stimulates a tiny tail on the device to ‘swim’ through the intestinal tract. This breakthrough medical device, intended to carry a camera, would offer a new, more controllable, means to photograph digestive organs from within.

According to the BWH press release, Noby Hata and Peter Jakab, colleagues in the department of Radiology, have successfully tested the device using an MRI machine to manipulate the tail and propel it through a tank of water. Next they hope to test it inside a human body. For more information, you can watch their animated design video, or see the prototype in action.

Pill camera technology has been in use for several years, but it has relied on images captured randomly as an unguided unit travels through the intestines on its own. While traditional pill cameras have the ability to capture critical medical data, there is a notable chance that they will miss problem areas as they pass by.

Creators of the MRI robot-camera hope their new technology will enable doctors to actively evaluate the digestive tract of a patient in real time, allowing them to focus on target areas. This is especially useful in areas unreachable by traditional endoscopes. And, for patients of digestive illness it might offer some coveted relief from the delicacies of barium and colonoscopy prep laxatives.

That said, perhaps they should call it the Endobot. Even better, since it has an innovative user interface let’s call it the g-iPod. Or, since it’s likely to capture intestinal multi-“media”, dare we say (drum roll please)… iPood? Whatever they end up naming this breakthrough, it will bring new meaning to what we say about new technology coming down the pipe.

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Tags: Emerging Technologies

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About the Author

Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.