Researchers at the University of Leeds in the UK have developed a robotic system that can assist a physician or nurse to perform a colonoscopy. The system uses magnets to guide a probe through the body, and its developers claim that the approach is easier for operators and less painful and uncomfortable for patients. The researchers hope that the system could make colonoscopies more widely available.
Colonoscopies are vital in detecting a variety of pathologies, including colorectal cancer. However, they aren’t the most comfortable procedure, and some patients require an anesthetic before they can undergo one. Therefore, developing methods to make the procedure easier for patients, and clinicians, is worthwhile.
“Colonoscopy gives doctors a window into the world hidden deep inside the human body and it provides a vital role in the screening of diseases such as colorectal cancer. But the technology has remained relatively unchanged for decades,” said Pietro Valdastri, a researcher involved in the study. “What we have developed is a system that is easier for doctors or nurses to operate and is less painful for patients. It marks an important step in the move to make colonoscopy much more widely available – essential if colorectal cancer is to be identified early.”
The new system consists of a small capsule connected to a cable that can be inserted more easily than the equipment for a conventional colonoscopy. Then, an external robotic arm, using magnets, is able to non-invasively manipulate the capsule through the rectum and colon.
To make the system as flexible as possible, the researchers created different levels of control for users. These include simply selecting the desired region for in the colon and letting the robotic arm manipulate the probe into place automatically, full control over the robotic arm using a joystick, and semi-autonomous navigation, where the robot will guide the capsule, but the user can override this manually if necessary.
“Robot-assisted colonoscopy has the potential to revolutionize the way the procedure is carried out. It means people conducting the examination do not need to be experts in manipulating the device,” said Bruno Scaglioni, another researcher involved in the study. “That will hopefully make the technique more widely available, where it could be offered in clinics and health centers rather than hospitals.”