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Hey, You Just Swallowed a Camera!

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WebMD Health News

May 24, 2000 -- With all the hype about the marvels of wireless communications, here's news of wireless technology that isn't too hard to swallow. Researchers from the UK and Israel have developed a vitamin pill-sized, wireless video camera that can be swallowed and will transmit high-quality images of the insides of the stomach and intestines as its makes its journey from the mouth to parts beyond. The technology is described in the May 25 issue of the journal Nature.

When patients are having stomach or bowel problems, they must often undergo uncomfortable imaging procedures for their doctors to determine the cause of the problem. Standard techniques for getting good video images of the stomach or bowels involve a flexible tube carrying a light and a miniature camera on its tip that is passed down through the throat (gastroscopy, for viewing the stomach) or up through the rectum (colonoscopy, for viewing the large bowel, or endoscopy, for viewing the small bowel).

But because of the twists and turns in the digestive tract, it is often hard for doctors to snake the tubes around bends, and they frequently have to puff in jets of air to help the camera get through narrow passages. The procedure causes so much discomfort that it is usually performed with the patient under sedation or anesthesia.

In contrast, healthy human volunteers had no trouble swallowing the so-called wireless endoscopy capsules and did not experience any stomach problems, the researchers report. The capsules, which are pushed along through the stomach and intestines by the same mechanism that transports food, transmitted high-quality video images for up to six hours from the stomach, small bowel, and cecum (a pouch located in the colon). The camera passed through the stomach in an average of 80 minutes and through the small bowel in about 90 minutes, and was out of the body in 10 to 48 hours.

The new device, if approved by the FDA, promises to free many patients from the discomfort and limitations of small-bowel imaging, and to allow them to continue daily activities while the camera works its way through the system, possibly eliminating the need for traditional stomach- and bowel-imaging techniques, say Paul Swain, PhD, and colleagues from the Royal London Hospital and Given Imaging Ltd. in Yoqneam, Israel.

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