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Robots May Soon Perform Better Colonoscopies

The devices have been tested successfully in animals

Robots May Soon Perform Better Colonoscopies

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Colonoscopies can now be faster and create less discomfort for patients.

En español | Remember the 1960s sci-fi movie “Fantastic Voyage,” in which a miniaturized medical team in a tiny submarine was injected into a patient’s bloodstream to perform a delicate brain operation?

Well, this news is almost as amazing. Researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Leeds have developed a tiny “capsule robot,” less than an inch (18 millimeters) in size, to perform colonoscopies that are faster and create less discomfort for patients.

Once inserted rectally, the tiny device can perform intricate maneuvers inside the patient’s colon while being guided by a magnet wielded by a robotic arm on the outside. The device can also perform biopsies and polyp removal.

Unlike a conventional endoscopy, a doctor doesn’t push the device from behind, which eliminates much of the physical pressure that the procedure normally exerts on the patient’s colon. The researchers say that could reduce the need for sedation or pain medication for patients.

"There's no doubt in the value of colonoscopies to keep people healthy through preventive screening for colon cancer, but many individuals still avoid this procedure, because of fear of the test itself, perceived discomfort or the risk of sedation," Keith Obstein, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt and one of the study’s authors, said in a press release. "We developed this capsule robot to make traversing the gastrointestinal tract much easier, for both the clinician and patient."

After successful animal trials, the researchers plan to begin human trials next year.

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