Brain and Body

This Cancer-Detecting Tadpole Swims Through Your Body

September 25, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Tadpoles (pictured here) inspired the design of a new cancer-detecting endoscope
Photo credit: Olaf Tausch/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Engineers have devised a tadpole-like endoscope camera that can be steered around the stomach and intestines to detect gastrointestinal cancer.

Getting a thorough look inside the body can prove problematic for doctors, and the gastrointestinal tract is a particularly tricky area. Now, a radical new body camera, the “Tadpole Endoscope,” has a tiny tail that propels it around the body while wirelessly transmitting videos of everything it sees.

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Endoscopes are an essential tool for examining the inner body, with a flexible tube containing a light source as well as an arrangement of lenses or tiny cameras. Endoscopies and colonoscopies are go-to methods for doctors when they’re checking for cancers in the GI (gastrointestinal) system — the stomach, esophagus, intestines, and rectum — but the procedures are generally quite costly and uncomfortable for the patient.

The Tadpole Endoscope, developed by engineers at the Institute of Precision Engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is relatively non-invasive since the patient can simply swallow it like a large pill. The control mechanisms and wireless camera are enclosed in its 3D-printed shell, and voila — doctors are equipped with a remote-controlled “tadpole” that will help them detect cancer.

Interestingly, a patient who swallows a Tadpole Endoscope won’t have to stay in the hospital under the doctor’s watch. They can be discharged with a sensor pad attached to their body, and the doctor will still be able to capture footage of the gastrointestinal tract over the next few days without disrupting the patient’s life.

The Tadpole Endoscope has yet to be tested in a human body, but its trials in a stomach model and a pig’s stomach offered promising results. The device needs further development, but it’s an exciting advancement toward simple GI tract examinations.

The first step in the battle against cancer is ensuring that people follow through with their necessary check-ups, and the current method for detecting GI cancer is uncomfortable enough to make anyone put it on the back burner. Having a 3D-printed larval frog swimming around your guts might not necessarily sound like a walk in the park, but when it comes to deciding between the Tadpole Endoscopy or a conventional one, the medical amphibian will triumph every time.


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