A tiny futuristic camera capsule is allowing patients to go about their daily lives while pictures from inside their body are taken to help hospital doctors with diagnosis and treatment.
The camera pill, complete with miniscule lights, saves patients from sometimes uncomfortable and unpleasant examinations.
Patients can get on with life while the tiny camera travels down their body
Twenty-four patients in Norfolk have now used the camera pill, called wireless capsule endoscopy investigation, since September 2002.
The patient swallows the 11 millimetres by 26 mm capsule, which has a tiny colour camera.
The capsule beams pictures via radio waves twice a second to a small receiver worn by the patient.
The patient is free to do whatever they like for the six to eight hours it takes the capsule to work its way through the digestive system and take about 40,000 images.
The pictures are then downloaded from the receiver to a computer and can then be analysed by a doctor.
The James Paget Hospital, Gorleston, and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital are now working with academics at the University of East Anglia (UEA), Norwich, on a research project into the colour images produced by the wireless capsules.
The research study is looking at how colour pictures might help diagnose Crohn's disease, a common inflammatory small bowel disease.
The hospitals are working with academics from the internationally renowned Colour Research Laboratory, headed by Professor Graham Finlayson in UEA's School of Computing Sciences.
Pictures of the stomach are among the 40,000 images
The research team includes Dr Jeff Berens, UEA lecturer in colour graphics, who has recently finished a PhD on the subject; Professor Duncan Bell, consultant gastroenterologist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital; and consultant gastroenterologist Dr Crawford Jamieson of the James Paget Hospital.
Dr Jamieson is responsible for the clinical use of the wireless capsule endoscopy service.
Dr Jamieson said: "Each patient generally has around 40,000 images from an endoscopy and it can take several hours for doctors to view them.
"Our current study aims to help identify areas of internal bleeding or inflammation more easily.
"This would be of huge benefit to the many people who have Crohn's disease."
Dr Berens said: "Our goal is to reduce the amount of time that the consultant needs to spend viewing the capsule images, but automating some of the diagnosis."
The project is funded by the National Association for Colitis and Crohn's Disease (NACC).
Its director Richard Driscoll said they were delighted to help such a practical and positive project.
"If these new techniques can be successfully developed to automate the viewing of all the images, then there will be a real time-saving benefit for the specialist doctors involved in treating people with Colitis and Crohn's. We eagerly await the outcome."