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Glasgow breakthrough for video-pill cancer imaging

19 December 2015

Researchers from the University of Glasgow have found a way to make swallowable cameras more effective at detecting cancers of the throat and gut.

Left: the packaged pill. The 14?mm diameter PCBs host (top) UHF transmitter and helical antenna, (middle) Lattice SiliconBlue FPGA controller and (bottom) imager ASIC (image courtesy of Scientific Reports)

In recent years, tiny sensing systems small enough for patients to swallow have proven to be a valuable clinical alternative to more intrusive imaging methods such as endoscopes.

Until now, the systems, often known as video-pill, have relied on illuminating patients’ innards using a small light source, restricting clinicians to conclusions based on what they can see in the spectrum of visible light.

In a paper published Friday 18 December in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from the University’s School of Engineering describe how they have used fluorescent light for the first time to expand the diagnostic capabilities of the video-pill.

Flurorescence imaging is already a powerful diagnostic tool in medicine, capable of clearly identifying in patients the rich blood supplies which support cancers and help them to grow, but which can be missed by examination under visible light. However, past fluorescence imaging technologies have been expensive, bulky and consume substantial power, confining the technique to laboratories and hospital examination rooms.

Using an advanced semiconductor single-pixel imaging technique, the researchers have managed to create flurorescence imaging in a small pill form for the first time.

Exploded 3D view of the wireless fluorescence capsule endocope, courtesy of Scientific Reports

The project was led by Professor David Cumming, in Electronic and Nanoscale Engineering at the University of Glasgow.

“The system we’ve developed is small enough and power efficient enough to image the entire human gastrointestinal tract for up to 14 hours," says research associate, Dr Mohammed Al-Rawhani. “We’ve confirmed in the lab the ability of the system to image fluorescence ‘phantoms’ – mixtures of flavins and haemoglobins which mimic closely how cancers are affected by fluorescence in parts of the body like the intestines, the bowel and the aesophagus.

“The system could also be used to help track antibodies used to label cancer in the human body, creating a new way to detect of cancer. It’s a valuable new technique which could help clinicians make fewer false positives and negatives in cancer diagnosis, which could lead to more effective treatment in the future.”

“We’ve played an important role in developing the technology behind video-pill systems, and this is an exciting new development, which offers a valuable new resource for gastrointestinal imaging," says Professor David Cumming, the University of Glasgow’s Chair of Electronic Systems. “There’s still some way to go before it will be ready for commercial production and clinical use, but we’re in early talks with industry to bring a product to market. We’re also interested in expanding the imaging capabilities of video-pill systems to new areas such as ultrasound in the near future.”

The paper, titled ‘Wireless fluorescence capsule for endoscopy using single photon-based detection’ is published in Scientific Reports. The illustrations here are reproduced courtesy of the researchers/Scientific Reports.

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