Cameras ingested in the form of a pill make it possible to examine areas of the stomach and intestines that cannot be reached using traditional equipment. Norwegian researchers are busy developing the next-generation camera pill.
Camera pills are used to take photos inside the stomach and intestine in order to detect abnormalities such as bleeding or cancer. They are highly effective in examining the small intestine, where the traditional methods of endoscopy or gastroscopy fall short.
Norwegian researchers from many areas of expertise have joined forces in an interdisciplinary project to develop a new, advanced type of camera pill. Preliminary test results are encouraging.
More information through video
In order to develop a camera pill with the desired properties, new technology is needed. The pill must be able to transmit information by radio waves through the patient. To keep pill size to a minimum, the amount of data transmitted needs to be significantly compressed. In addition, the pill must be equipped with GPS so that it can send and receive information about its location.
"Our pill will employ wireless ultra-wideband technology with enough bandwidth to handle live, high-quality video transmission of observations from the intestine," says Ilangko Balasingham, project manager at Oslo University Hospital's (OUS) Intervention Centre. "It will also communicate its coordinates via radio so that the doctors can pinpoint its location in the body."
Balasingham is heading the research project "Melody", a collaboration between the OUS, the University of Oslo (UiO), the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI). The project aims to develop wireless communication between medical equipment within and outside the human body. The project is funded under the Research Programme on Core Competence and Value Creation in ICT (VERDIKT), under the Large-scale Programme initiative administered by the Research Council of Norway.
Effective on pigs
Norwegian researchers have been working for some time to find out how effectively radio waves pass through animal tissue. Researchers at OUS were the world's first to study the weakening of high-frequency radio waves passing through tissue, creating a model to calculate the effect.
"We've developed a technology for transmitting radio waves through tissue to an antenna device placed against the skin," adds Balasingham.
Some of the components have been tested on pigs. The tests indicate that it is possible to receive strong video signals as long as the transmitter is located within a depth of 5 cm in the abdomen or the chest cavity. The deeper the transmitter is located, the weaker the signals become.
Conventional camera pills in use today take two photos per second. Video recording usually involves 30 photos per second and results in much greater amounts of data.
In order to work as intended, the new pill needs to be equipped with a battery larger than the current one and a light source to make the film transmitted from within the intestine visible. Using a new compression algorithm, researchers at NTNU have been able to compress the video to 3% of its original size - enough to provide video of sufficient quality.
Critical to know location
It is important for doctors to know exactly where the camera pill is located inside the patient when filming. Researchers at UiO are working on creating a radio transmitter small enough to integrate into the camera pill. A belt full of tiny receivers worn around the patient's stomach, captures the signals.
"It's the same principle as using GPS to find your way," explains Balasingham.
Examining tissue with radar
The material properties of damaged tissue - such as cancer tissue - differ from those of healthy tissue.
The researchers at FFI are working on a radar solution which outperforms video, enabling the pill to observe more deeply inside the stomach and intestine and to provide feedback as to whether the tissue is healthy or damaged.
Although the technology is still in the developmental stages, researchers in the US are experimenting with this type of radar examination as a replacement for x-rays when looking for cancerous tumours in breast tissue.
Relevant to the petroleum industry?
If we draw on all the technologies being developed by the various research groups, we may end up with a camera pill that gives us entirely new possibilities for diagnosing illness and planning more customised treatment. But it does not stop there: This same technology may also have a promising future in industrial areas.
"We envision using the camera pill for purposes such as looking for damage in underwater oil pipes," states Balasingham.