Japan develops self-propelled capsule endoscope

It’s a fact of life that sometimes your doctor has to put an endoscope inside your body cavities to have a look around. At least Japan has developed a pill-sized model that’s self-propelled.

According to AFP, Japanese researchers said Tuesday that they finished a self-propelled remote controlled capsule endoscope that can “swim” inside the digestive tract.

Why is that a good thing? In the past Capsule endoscopes weren’t able to propel themselves. That means they had to rely on muscle contractions to move them through the cavity. Now people don’t have to simulate a bowel movement just to get the camera to come back out.  


That’s progress.


The researchers have been successful in capturing images from inside a person’s stomach and colon using the tadpole-like capsule as an initial step towards its medical application.  


More importantly, is it the first time that a self-propelled endoscope has moved from one part of the digestive tract to another with success. Combine that with the images and you have a huge breakthrough in medicine.


The device is called the “Mermaid, and it’s about 0.4 inches in diameter and 1.8 inches long. It has magnetic driving gear that gives the user precise control over its direction and location.


Doctors use a joystick to control the capsule’s movements; they use a monitor to watch the movements as they happen. The endoscope can be swallowed for a look inside of the stomach. If you want to look inside of the colon then it will need to be inserted rectally. At least it’s small.


The research was made public at an international digestive diseases conference in Chicago, Illinois, in May, according to the team, which included scientists from Ryukoku University and Osaka Medical College. Capsule endoscopes have been in development since the 1980s and have been widely used since the 2000s.


They first tested the self-propelled endoscope capsule inside of a dog’s stomach in 2009. It has been tweaked and made smaller since then.


The Mermaid was displayed for Japanese media at Osaka Medical College in Osaka’s suburbs on Tuesday.


“By remotely controlling the capsule, we can precisely photograph the area which needs to be tested,” Osaka Medical College professor Kazuhide Higuchi said.

“It can examine the digestive canal from the esophagus to the colon in a few hours. It reduces burdens on patients and can lead to the discovery of cancer,” he said.