Remember that scene in Prometheus where the scientist guy takes those silver balls from his backpack and started “mapping” the inside of the crazy alien mound thing?
This is the work of the good folks at Massachusetts General Hospital — you’re looking at a pill-sized, tethered endoscope that the docs can use to create a scan of the inside of your esophagus! That is some pretty amazing stuff! I think this is also a great time to say that Mass General also won the #1 Hospital in the US award from US News and World Report! This is important to me, especially given the source of the little pill-sized endoscope. This didn’t come from a company that does this for a living, this came from a hospital. To me, this is huge news! This is a hospital solving a problem that needed solving.
From the article at Nature magazine, posted in January:
Now, researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston have invented a tethered, pill-sized endoscope that that allows doctors to construct an image of a person’s esophagus in microscopic detail within a few minutes—and all without anesthesia, intense training or causing pain. Their work was published today in Nature Medicine.
“A lot of people have reflux but don’t feel the pain of heartburn,” says MGH pathologist Gary Tearney, who led the study. These patients are at high risk for developing cancer, because they usually have no reason to get their esophagus inspected. “[Our device] really opens up screening to many more people,” Tearney says.
The new experimental endomicroscope device looks like a penny-sized, clear plastic pill, attached to a long piano wire that runs to a computer console. It can be swallowed with a cup of water. Because it is tethered, the pill can then be sent up and down the length of the esophagus, where it scans and generates an image.
The device works via optical frequency domain imaging (OFDI), a technique similar to ultrasound but using infrared light. The researchers first generate a beam of light, and then split it into two with mirrors. One beam is sent into a detector where it serves as a reference; the other is sent through the tether, into the pill, where it is directed into the tissue.
In the esophagus, the light beam is focused on an area roughly the diameter of a human hair and then spun around axially 20 times per second. Like in ultrasounds, the properties of the light after it reflects off tissue can be measured. When it is sent back to a detector and compared with the reference beam, the difference between the two can be used to reconstruct a thin cross section of the esophagus in microscopic detail. By stacking these cross-sections together, researchers can create a three-dimensional image of the esophagus in a method similar to CT scan reconstructions.
Have you ever had an endoscopic procedure? Like the ones where they stick the camera down your throat or even maybe a colonoscopy, where they go in the back way? Let me tell you — I’ve had both, and they both f****ng suck sh** through a tube, and hard. Consider that when you think of this pill-sized endoscope. This thing can be swallowed by the patient with little or no anasthesia, long procedures, or even pain from the patient. This is absolutely awesome. Finally, something that allows doctors to grab a 3D scan of your esophagus without being in pain while it’s happening.
Check out some awesome images of this pill! This first image, the sort-of schematic, is actually huge, just click on it:
If you want to see the entire abstract, which is awesome, go here and check it out!