‘Very soft and very pliable’: Flexible robot offers hope for less painful bowel cancer checks for 900,000 Britons
Colon cancer examinations could become much less painful, according to scientists, thanks to the development of a soft robotic device.
Researchers at Imperial College London say they have developed a new type of endoscope that reduces the discomfort usually associated with a colonoscopy.
The device is soft, flexible and able to stretch and curl itself into the body, and clinical trials are now underway to test its effectiveness.
Around 900,000 colonoscopies are performed in the UK each year, most of them for bowel cancer screening.
In more than 75 percent of cases, patients suffer significant pain, according to Nisha Patel, a gastroenterologist consultant at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London who is conducting clinical trials of the new device.
Researchers at Imperial College London say they’ve created a new type of endoscope that reduces the discomfort usually associated with a colonoscopy (pictured is a normal endoscope)
She said: ‘This affects the acceptance of further procedures and the patient’s experience. There are reasons why people can be in pain. For example, if patients have undergone pelvic surgery and have scars from the inside, if they are older or if they have certain intestinal disorders.’
An endoscope is a long, thin tube with a camera on the end that is inserted into the body to check for certain diseases.
Ms Patel said endoscopes currently used in clinical settings are relatively rigid compared to the robotic prototype.
“You’re essentially looking at a garden hose versus an octopus branch,” she said. ‘It [the robotic endoscope] is very soft, very pliable and can curl around corners.’
In addition to a camera, the robotic endoscope also comes with a probe that can sample and analyze tissue, as well as a small surgical laser, which can remove tumors, making it a ‘one-stop device’ for detecting cancer at an early stage and treatable, the researchers said.
Ms Patel added: ‘Possibly its use in primary care could be as a comfortable procedure to perform outside of a hospital setting that is also safe and effective.’
The robotic endoscope is one of five projects to receive a ?36.5 million investment from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.