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Health-tech innovation

Camera pill detects far more potential cancer tumors

A camera pill detects 70 % more colon polyps than a colonoscopy. The surprising result means that SDU and Odense University Hospital are now initiating the world’s largest study of 2015 patients who are at risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.

By Birgitte Dalgaard, , 10/24/2019

Every year, approximately 5000 Danes are diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer and according to the Danish Health Authority, 200o Danes die from the diseases.

The cancers are discovered through an endoscopy, a so-called colonoscopy, but a recent study has shown that camera pills are far better at discovering potential cancer tumors.

The remarkable finding has led SDU and Odense University Hospital to design the world’s largest comparative study of camera pills and colonoscopies, where 2015 patients will swallow the camera pill, while a control group will undergo a colonoscopy. The study will scientifically conclude which method gives the highest survival rate for intestinal cancer.

Pill with cameras inside

- Personally, I would much rather swallow this small pill, says professor Esmaeil S. Nadimi from SDU Embodied System for Robotics and Learning, while holding up the 30 by 5 mm pill. Two cameras are peaking through from inside the pill.

The pill is swallowed with a bit of water and takes 40.000-50.000 photographs on its way through the intestines; a colonoscopy is carried out by inserting a finger-sized tube into the anus.

In the recent study with 253 participants, the camera pill detected 70 % more colon polyps. The endoscopy detected 93 of the big polyps larger than 10 mm that carry the biggest cancer risk. The pill found 159.

Camera detects cancer

Esmaeil S. Nadimi is an expert in machine learning and AI, and he has spent more than 10 years improving the camera pill to make it even better at recognizing intestinal cancer.

- Right now, we are experimenting with on-board intelligence and the illumination system in the pill camera. When we use white light, we can only see the polyps, but when using a combination of different wavelengths such as blue and green light, we can see through the polyp and decide if it is developing cancer, Esmaeil S. Nadimi explains.

The researchers have also developed an algorithm that can review the 40.000-50.000 photographs from the patient’s intestines and raise the alarm if it detects polyps in the pictures.

Intestinal cancer

  • Colon and rectal cancer are some of the most common types of cancer in Denmark. 
  • Around 5000 cases are diagnosed each year, and around 2000 people die from them each year.
  •  Since 2014, all Danes between 50 and 74 have been offered a screening for colon and rectal cancer. 

Kilde: The Danish Health Authority

- Today, reviewing the pictures of one patient takes a trained person approximately one and a half hour, while the algorithm crunches all the images in a few minutes, saving a lot of time, Esmaeil S. Nadimi explains. He adds that one of the challenges with the pill technology is that wirelessly transmitting 40.000-50.000 photographs drains the battery.

- To solve this, we are looking to improve the camera pill with onboard intelligence so that it automatically detects abnormalities on-the-go, while only transmitting those images with significant findings.

- Our camera pill will feature on-the-go localization, size estimation and characterization of colorectal polyps using onboard intelligence and illuminating lights, while deleting all the pictures that show normal and heathy intestines, Esmaeil S. Nadimi continues.

A pill costs $600

Spain and Italy have already begun using camera pills, but in Denmark the cost is keeping hospitals from giving up endoscopies. A colonoscopy costs around $300 while a camera pill costs $600.

- But the pills are constantly getting better and more affordable, and in a socio-economic perspective I have no doubts that the pills are a good investment.

- It is not only about the cost of a medical specialist, but also that 30 % of patients decline a colonoscopy because of the discomfort of having a tube inserted in the rectum, Esmaeil S. Nadimi points out.

Meet the researcher

Professor Esmaeil S. Nadimi from SDU Embodied Systems for Robotics and Learning has spent more than 10 years improving the camera pill to make it better at detecting colon and rectal cancer.


Editing was completed: 24.10.2019