The end of endoscopies rests in the palm of a hand and is pill-shaped
There are numerous researchers working to make endoscopies easier and more comfortable. If all goes well, in a few years, you may not need to use large leads with probes or general anesthesia. The future of this procedure would happen because the probes become mere capsules capable of collecting an enormous amount of information.
There are already several prototypes, some of which will help cure some of the most tricky diseases of our time. Others begin to be used already in the most complicated points of the globe. Welcome to the era of pill probes.
One pill endoscopy
Last February, an interview with Bill Gates revealed some of the most interesting developments in the near future. Among them was a "pill" specially designed to treat environmental enteric dysfunction, or DEE. This disease is one of the most expensive both in terms of resources and in terms of its consequences. And worst of all, we don't really know why it happens.
EED causes inflammation in the intestines, causing malnutrition due to dysfunction of the digestive system. That Gates talks about this disease is no coincidence. Her foundation spends millions of dollars to combat it in developing countries. As they explain, DEE is the reason why millions of people are malnourished, have problems in development and do not achieve well-being.
And what does the pill have to do with all this? The most effective system to treat it, currently, is monitoring the digestive tract to know when to intervene. This is difficult, and more so in the places with the highest incidence, due to the scarce technical and sanitary means available. For example, endoscopy requires sedation, a camera, and a monitor that are troublesome if not dangerous.
But what if we exchange it for a capsule? This is just what Guillermo Tearney has achieved, as Gates reported: a capsule intended to make simple, less invasive and uncomfortable endoscopies, which allow the medical team to monitor the state of the intestine without resorting to anesthesia or the typical intervention of endoscopies.
Cheaper, simpler and more efficient than an endoscopy
This type of capsule endoscopy uses a miniaturized device capable of sending video signals through a small cord, the size of a string. It is not as comfortable as a WiFi capsule, but Tearney tests have shown that they can be used almost without discomfort in adults, children and even babies. In the latter, it is especially practical, because in order to observe the digestive system in young children, the vast majority of times requires anesthesia and the use of a nasopharyngeal endoscope, which involves inserting a tube down the throat.
This process is very cumbersome, sometimes dangerous, and quite expensive. This whole set makes it inappropriate for observing the disease at the points where it is most prevalent, of course. However, an endoscopic pill, like that of the researcher we mentioned, provides a solution to all these problems: it is more comfortable, more effective and cheaper; because it is easier to transport, clean, reuse and maintain.
Tearney capsules are used to research EDE and keep the population healthier. But they also have other applications, such as diagnosing "Barrett's esophagus," a precursor to esophageal cancer. The capacity of the microchambers of the pill is spectacular. They are capable of achieving a microscope resolution, as Tearney himself explained at the congress where he presented his ingenuity. But it is not the only pill that promises to substantially improve our health in the immediate future.
A pill to know if you have a problem
The design of the Phil Nandeau team is even more comfortable, since it goes with its own battery and sends the results of the analysis directly to your mobile. Like the previous one, it has the shape of a pill, somewhat larger and with a transparent cover. It does not have a cable and the information it provides is different.
Their secret is biosensors, specially prepared bacteria colonies that are capable of alerting of some incorrect patterns: pH, temperature, presence of certain substances ... These pills serve as true control agents, detecting things that could only be done by endoscopy. , resorting again to annoying and dangerous intervention.
With this pill, however, you can maintain a constant stream of data so that it sends a message to a mobile app when it detects something is wrong. And how does this other pill work? Biosensors are made of bacteria engineered so that, if certain parameters change in the stomach environment, they react.
By reacting, they activate a signal on the microplate that carries the pill. This goes with its own microbattery that powers the board. The capsule membrane is semi-permeable to allow the contents to pass to the bacteria and the reaction that will trigger the alarm occurs. At the moment, these pills serve, for example, to detect the presence of blood in the stomach, so that it can warn in the event of a surgical complication or the appearance of an ulcer.
The era of pills for better medicine
In 2015, the Food and Drugs AdministrationThe United States FDA approved the use of the first digital pill, Abilify MyCite. This consists of a biosensor, the pill, an external patch and an application. The set basically serves to monitor whether someone has taken their medication or not. The sensor sends a signal to the patch, which in turn sends the information to the phone. It also serves to collect information about rest and alert medical managers of any problems.
In August of last year, a pill-sized sensor was shown to be able to detect stomach problems. This pill detects all kinds of biomarkers and proved to be able to do it with an accuracy 3,000 times greater than the breath tests that are usually used to measure carbon dioxide and hydrogen, two substances capable of indicating that something is wrong in our stomach according to their concentration.
And these are just the first "flavors" of a dozen to come. The ability to miniaturize systems, genetic engineering, and the latest advancements in communications are a perfect match for generating a whole legion of "smart pills" capable of almost everything. And it seems that we have only begun to explore everything they can offer us.
At the moment, we have already seen some approved and in use. Soon, like Tearney's endoscopic pill, they will be used more and more. It is not surprising that a highly technophilic and philanthropic profile such as Bill Gates' has echoed these small advances, since it seems that much of the future of health will rest in the palm of one hand.
Images | Pixabay, Bruce Peterson, Pixabay