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Future Testing Will Be Music to Patients' Ears

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Another approach to imaging of the digestive track is as simple as swallowing a capsule. Researchers in the U.K. and Israel have developed a wireless video camera that transmits images, of the stomach and intestines, as it moves though the digestive tract. "It's a gulpable minicam," says Sandra Ziv, the marketing manager at Given Imaging in Yogneam in Israel. "The capsules shoot an eight-hour movie, then computer software turns it into a 20-minute film clip."

The video capsules are not likely to replace gastroscopy and endoscopy, in which a long flexible scope is passed through the throat. "Capsules have fewer risks and don't require sedation, but traditional procedures will still be needed to treat digestive disorders," adds Ziv. "For diagnosing problems, the cost will be about the same and patients can continue their daily activities without interruption." Ziv tells WebMD that the new device could be available later this year.

Computer software also can be used to increase the value of imaging tests. Doctors miss one in four breast cancers with mammograms, but computer-aided diagnosis makes doctors better, according to David Ku, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine and professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, both in Atlanta.

With Ku's Internet-based application, doctors can compare abnormalities to a growing database of digital mammograms, providing a virtual second opinion. In addition to early cancer detection, Ku believes computer-aided diagnosis will reduce the number of false positive readings, resulting in fewer breast biopsies. The makers plan to launch the program in January.

Intelligent computers also may provide an alternative to the arteriogram, where a small tube is fed through the groin to view blood vessels of the heart and neck. "A traditional MRI scan [similar to an x-ray] overestimates blockage, but artificial intelligence makes it as accurate as an arteriogram, without all the risks," says Harris Bergman, PhD, a biomedical engineer and co-founder of Atlanta-based MediZeus. "Bergman tells WebMD that the MRAngiogram will be available in about three years at one quarter the cost of the traditional method.

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