The IEEE has for slogan: “Technology for the benefit of humanity”; these few words are all the more appropriate for what Sonopill is trying to achieve.
Whoever visits the museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh cannot fail to be in awe in front of the beautiful medical instruments that doctors created over the centuries. Steel scalpels, iron saws, and large brass needles were aimed to ease the suffering, or more humbly, to offer some hope of survival for the patients. Each of them was seen as an improvement over the others; progress was made on the basis of empirical learning, enriched by the experience of the doctors and, to some extent, the technology of the time. Progress in material science enabled the miniaturization of surgical instruments; as optical systems improved, so did the way to visualize inaccessible regions of human anatomy. Progress in electronics permitted the sensing of non-optical stimuli as well as online monitoring and detections of pathologies.
Today the Sonopill team has become more conscious of the challenges ahead. Electrical power budget is impossibly tight for an autonomous system, which could provide all the modalities that one wishes to offer (ultrasound, optics, microwave ablation, data and power transmission) whilst occupying the volume of an ingestible pill. This frustrating state of affairs, combined with the requirement of low in-situ thermal dissipation, pushes the team to be innovative but pragmatic, ambitious but realistic, creative but conscious of the technical barriers. It is after all research at the highest level. Nobody believed that it would be that simple.
I have great hope in the creation of the Pathfinder pill, which will serve as a technology platform to try our modalities. I believe in the need to be incremental, producing increasingly sophisticated pills with those modalities relevant to the pathologies one wishes to diagnose and perhaps even cure. Spinning out these devices is necessary as a way to learn from our findings and also as a means to producing useful devices and systems for further medical development.
One of the very first sentences of the Sonopill proposal submitted 3 years ago still resonates strongly in my mind. In 2010, Fleischer wrote: “an endoscope tethered by an umbilical cord to a processor will be viewed by future generations with curiosity”. My hope is that, ten years from now and thanks to Sonopill, the endoscope occupies the same shelf as these brass and glass instruments found today in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons.
All for the benefit of humanity...