A Simpler Colonoscopy?
Until recently, I had never heard much about colonoscopies. A common reason for colonoscopies is to screen a patient for colon cancer. Because colon and rectal cancers are the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States regular screenings allow for the chance to catch the cancer at an earlier stage, thus increasing the likelihood of successful treatment. Therefore, I highly recommend going to any screening your doctor recommends!
However, it wasn’t until my dad had one that I learned about the preparation a patient has to go do for this one procedure. If you don’t know anything about colonoscopy prep, I’ll explain it for you. It takes approximately 16 hours, at a minimum, to prep for a colonoscopy. The day before your procedure you can’t eat solid foods; instead you are supposed to consume clear liquids, Jell-O, Popsicles, etc. Then on the day of the procedure you continue with your clear liquids diet, but you can’t eat or drink anything two hours prior to your procedure. And if you wanted to go above and beyond, a few days before your procedure you could start eating a low fiber diet (no whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds or vegetables). I know, you’re probably thinking the same thing as me- what in the world would you eat then?? Who knows? But the good news is you have time to figure it out and plan for it.
If you thought that was all for prep, you are mistaken. You also have to do what is referred to as a bowel prep. This is typically a liquid medication that will ‘cleanse’ out your system…aka triggers diarrhea- how exciting! The exact directions depend on your medication, the doctor’s instructions, the time of your colonoscopy and so forth and so on.
After reading about the prep, I’m sure you’re thinking, “is it realllly necessary to get my regular colonoscopy?” You bet it is! But the good news is there may be a less invasive way of obtaining the same information.
Engineers have designed a tiny robotic capsule that can travel inside the colon and take micro-ultrasound images. The capsule, known as Sonopill, contains magnets that will respond to magnets in the robotic arm which will guide the capsule through a process known as intelligent magnetic manipulation to the colon so that it may take the images needed to assess any potential cell changes.
The magnetic forces have been studied and were shown to be harmless and to pass through human tissue, making the need for physical connection with the patient unnecessary. No more invasive procedure where a semi-rigid scope is passed into the bowel! Woohoo!!
If you’re worried about the capsule not knowing where to go, worry no more. The robot has an artificial intelligence (AI) system that helps position the capsule against the gut wall to get the best quality image for your healthcare professionals to analyze. During feasibility studies conducted on laboratory models and pigs, when the capsule became dislodged the AI system was able to navigate the capsule back to the correct location and capture necessary images. This should calm any fears about the capsule becoming stuck or getting lost in you somewhere.
Within the capsule, which is 39 mm long with a diameter of 21 mm, there is a micro ultrasound transducer, an LED light, camera and magnet. Attached to the capsule is a small, flexible cable that sends ultrasound images back to a computer in the examination room. How cool that all of this technology is in something so small!
While the colonoscopy and colon were targeted initially, this technology could impact procedures throughout the entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract minimizing the amount of invasive procedures patients need to experience.
Now who really knows how long this will take to be approved by the FDA, incorporated into healthcare settings, be paid for by insurance, etc. but it is an exciting breakthrough in the field of healthcare. However, I am very curious as to how they retrieve the capsule- or if they will retrieve it- once the procedure is done, but hey, that’s for someone else to decide!
I know that some people will think this will eliminate some jobs. However, there will need to be an operator to oversee the robot, nurses who assist and oversee patient care during the process, and doctors/surgeons who examine the images that are collected. Anesthesiologists may not be needed as often since this is a noninvasive procedure, meaning patients should be able to remain awake, but they will be needed in other surgeries!
What I do believe is that this will make the patient experience much better, increase the amount of people who get regular screenings, and provide a chance for healthcare professionals to teach patients various things about the colon during this procedure to help give them a better understanding of their body. Unfortunately, the prep will still have to be done; you just can’t get clear images if the colon is full of food, no matter how badly we may not want to do the prep. And trust me, they’ll know if you don’t prep well enough.
Lex Be Real, after watching a colonoscopy procedure last week during my pharmacy school rotation, you definitely do not want healthcare professionals seeing your digested food on a monitor/coming out of you…
To read more about this new robot, click here.
To read more about colonoscopy prep, click here.