Scientists have devised a new AI-powered robotic arm equipped with a probe and a magnet that can perform 'less painful' colonoscopies to check for bowel cancer by using the magnet to externally steer a camera probe through the gut, The Daily Mail reported. The system developed by a team from Leeds University could prove to be the first major update in decades to the procedure, which is used some 100,000 times each year in the UK. In a colonoscopy, a camera-ended probe is passed through the rectum and colon to hunt for and remove abnormalities and take tissue samples.
The examination can be uncomfortable for the patient and requires highly skilled doctors to be performed, limiting the availability of the procedure. The artificially intelligent system, however, will aid less experienced doctors and nurses in safely guiding the probe to precise locations within the colon. Patient trials using the system could begin as early as next year.
"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 author Pietro Valdastri of Leeds University.
"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," Valdastri added.
According to Professor Valdastri and his colleagues, the new procedure has been designed to be easier to administer, thereby increasing the number of providers who can perform the procedure and, accordingly, patient access to colonoscopies. A doctor or nurse would still need to be on hand to make clinical decisions, but the demanding task of guiding the probe would be offloaded to the robotic system.
The set-up still uses an endoscopic probe, as with traditional colonoscopies, but the team's new version is smaller and is guided after insertion not by a doctor or nurse pushing the colonoscope, but using a magnet held over the patient by the robot. As the arm moves around the patient, it maneuvers the capsule, which also contains tiny magnets along with it.