It is estimated that three million Americans are suffering from Barrett’s esophagus, a disorder in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid. This is often the end result of untreated gastroesophageal reflux diseases. The procedure of treating Barrett’s esophagus requires sedating the patient and inserting a long endoscope into the esophagus, which is invasive, expensive and uncomfortable. So, researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston are developing a pill-sized and tethered endoscope that allows doctors to construct an image of a person’s esophagus in microscopic detail within a few minutes.
Because of its small size, the procedure isn’t painful and doesn’t need anesthesia. The device, which is about the size of penny, is attached to a long wire that is connected to a computer. Researchers say that the device can be swallowed by drinking a cup of water. And since it is tethered, it can be easily sent up and down the esophagus. Researchers use a technology called optical frequency domain imaging (OFDI), a technique that is somewhat similar to ultrasound, but instead, it uses infrared light. A beam of light is generated and is split into two using mirrors. One beam is sent into a detector for reference while the other is sent through the tether where it is directed into the tissue.