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Monday, 21 February, 2000, 14:12 GMT
Pill camera to 'broadcast from the gut'

pill camera A diagram of the pill camera


A pill-sized camera which would travel through the gut looking for signs of disease is being developed by scientists.

Doctors could eventually use the tiny capsule - just 15mm long - to diagnose cancer.



It will be sufficiently small to be comfortably swallowed by any normal patient
Dr David Cumming
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.

Swallowed

Dr David Cumming, lecturer in electronics and electronic engineering at Glasgow University, said: "It will be sufficiently small to be comfortably swallowed by any normal patient.

"It could be a real benefit to people in remote communities who cannot get access to hospitals. The measurement could be made at home and the data then sent away for analysis."

A combination of two existing, proven technologies - cameras on chips and mini, portable devices for analysing data - are being combined for the first time in the "lab-in-a-pill", as it has been dubbed by Dr Cumming and colleagues.

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 focussing 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.

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