Tiny optical device can examine throats

Jan. 14, 2013 at 4:44 PM

BOSTON, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say a pill-size device fed down the throat can detect conditions in the esophagus at a fraction of the cost of an endoscopic examination.

Researchers at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital said the device offers a new method for detecting cancers and other throat ailments by taking microscopic images as it is fed down through the throat, Red Orbit reported Monday.

A main use of the device would be to scan for a condition known as Barrett's esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition often caused by long-term exposure to stomach acid, researchers said.

About the size of a multivitamin and equipped with an infrared light source and sensors, the device can capture a detailed, microscopic image of the esophagus wall while providing a number of advantages over traditional endoscopy, they said.

"This system gives us a convenient way to screen for Barrett's that doesn't require patient sedation, a specialized setting and equipment, or a physician who has been trained in endoscopy," Dr. Gary Tearney, the study author, said.

"By showing the three-dimensional, microscopic structure of the esophageal lining, it reveals much more detail than can be seen with even high-resolution endoscopy."

A small tether is connected to the imaging device, which is swallowed by the patient, allowing a health professional to control the system during the procedure and remove it when the examination is complete, researchers said.

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