A colonoscopy is still the most effective way for a physician to diagnose a variety of colorectal diseases. The procedure, completed under sedation, is a mildly invasive and unpleasant process that many patients tend to delay due to concern over discomfort. But new research has paved the way for a capsule-sized robot to take over these procedures in the future, making the diagnostic and treatment process quicker and easier.

A team of researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Leeds have developed an 18 mm magnetized capsule colonoscope that can be guided through the colon by an external magnet attached to a robotic arm.

The capsule robot has been successfully trialled 30 times in the colon of a pig and the research team note it can complete a complex maneuver called retroflexion, whereby the camera can bend backward allowing a reverse-view of the colon wall.

"Not only is the capsule robot able to actively maneuver through the GI tract to perform diagnostics, it is also able to perform therapeutic maneuvers, such as biopsies of tissue or polyp removal, due to the tether – something that other capsule devices are unable to do," explained one of the study's authors Dr Keith Obstein.

As Dr Obstein notes, the capsule robot is attached to a tether that is much smaller than a conventional scope. The tether allows for more extensive processes to occur during the procedure.

Over recent years many researchers have been working on different types of capsule-based diagnostic tools. The PillCam is a swallowable camera that records its trip through a patient's gastrointestinal tract while the Tadpole Endoscope offers a more controllable camera-device that can swim around your stomach.

While these other swallowable capsule cameras do function as compelling new diagnostic tools, none were able to cover off on the other medical outcomes a traditional colonoscopy could achieve. The hope that Dr Obstein and his team have is that their capsule robot could simplify the process of diagnosing and managing colorectal diseases, reducing the need for procedures involving complex sedation or pain medication.

The team is planning on moving their device into human trials by the end of 2018.

The study was presented at Digestive Disease Week 2017.

Take a look at the procedure in action in the video below.

Source: Digestive Disease Week via Eurekalert