Cancer of the GI tract is the second most common cause of death in the UK. Improving the ability to detect and classify lesions as early as possible as a part of diagnosis is vital. This requires imaging modalities utilizing the most sensitive technologies to assist the endoscopist carrying out the diagnosis. Current methods of direct imaging are through endoscopy for the oesophagus and colon and through optical Capsule Endoscopy (CE) and Push Enteroscopy (PE) for the small bowel. Our idea is to develop a range of ultrasonic pills as a more acceptable, higher performance alternative. One important feature of the pill is that we will be able to differentiate between cancerous and noncancerous tissue through visual inspection of ultrasonic images and also based on quantitative analysis of data. Conventional scoping techniques, such as PE, are limited by the length of the GI tract and its complex geometry. In addition, endoscopy and, more so, enteroscopy are long technical processes with much greater risk of complication than CE. The Pathfinder Pill we propose is less invasive and will provide a more comfortable procedure.
The Pathfinder Pill has emerged as an independent project from a larger 5-year investigation, Sonopill, led by Prof. Sandy Cochran. A fully autonomous microultrasound (µUS) capsule endoscope requires very high functional density and is likely to be several years away. To allow a shorter term investigation of ultrasonic capabilities, Pathfinder Pill provides a simpler approach and will ultimately be a less expensive solution, with many of its own applications.
We will be collaborating with clinicians and biologists to widen involvement in the project. Association of high profile academics from several Scottish universities has been very productive since embarking on this project but we would now like to collaborate with companies as well, to strengthen our knowledge on CE, particularly the pathway to commercial production and therefore routine clinical translation. Moreover, being the potential customers and end-users, clinicians based in Ninewells Hospital will be actively participating in the development and testing of the device.