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‘Pillbot’ Could Explore Inner Human Body

Alex Luebke, Vivek Kumbhari and the PillBot are pictured at the TED Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, which was held April 15-19, 2024. (Craig McCulloch/VOA)
Alex Luebke, Vivek Kumbhari and the PillBot are pictured at the TED Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, which was held April 15-19, 2024. (Craig McCulloch/VOA)
‘Pillbot’ Could Explore Inner Human Body
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A new, small robotic camera designed to be swallowed for use in medical examinations was recently demonstrated at a conference in Canada. The device called PillBot can be guided through a body remotely, meaning electronically from outside. Its creators hope the device will replace traditional endoscopies. An endoscopy is when a camera attached to a wire is directed down the throat and into a sleeping patient’s stomach.

The company Endiatx based in Hayward, California, developed the device. The research hospital, Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, is a partner in the project.

The PillBot is designed to be the first motorized endoscopic camera. Here is how developers say it works: A patient does not eat for one day, then swallows the PillBot with lots of water. The PillBot acts like a small submarine controlled by a wireless remote control. When the exam is complete, the body will expel the PillBot in the same way it expels other solid waste.

Dr. Vivek Kumbhari is co-founder of the company. He is professor of medicine and chairman of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Mayo Clinic. It is the latest step toward his larger goal of making complex medicine more accessible.

If endoscopies can be moved from a hospital setting to a patient’s home, he said, "then I think we have achieved that goal." Use of the device would require fewer medical workers and no anesthesia, he said. The device provides "a safer, more comfortable approach,” he added.

Kumbhari also said the technology is more efficient and permits people to get treatment earlier in the progress of a disease.

Alex Luebke is the co-founder of Endiatx. He said the PillBot can help people in rural areas where medical centers and treatment are lacking.

"Especially in developing countries, there is no access" to complex medical care, he said. "So being able to have the technology, gather all that information and provide you the solution, even in remote areas - that's the way to do it.”

The micro-robotic pill is undergoing testing. It could come before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for consideration in the coming months. If approved, the PillBot could be available by 2026.

Kumbhari hopes the technology can be expanded to the bowels, vascular system, heart, liver, brain and other parts of the body.

I’m Dan Novak.

Craig McCulloch reported this story for Voice of America. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

accessible — adj. able to be reached or approached

achieve — v. to get or reach by working hard

anesthesia — n. loss of feeling in a person's body or part of the body through the use of drugs

comfortable — n. not causing any physically unpleasant feelings

approach — n. to begin to deal with or think about

bowel — n. the long tube in the body that helps digest food and carries solid waste out of the body

vascular — n. of or relating to the veins, arteries, etc., that carry fluids through the body