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Pill-sized imaging device correctly spots Barrett's esophagus

Fierce 15 company NinePoint Medical has licensed the technology
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Endomicroscopy capsule --courtesy of Mass. General Hospital.

Massachusetts General Hospital researchers successfully tested a pill-sized infrared imaging device in 13 unsedated patients as a screening tool for Barrett's esophagus, cellular damage that can lead to deadly esophageal cancer.

Nature Medicine published details of their work. And 2012 Fierce 15 company NinePoint Medical in Cambridge, M.A. licensed the technology from MGH for further development, the hospital noted. NinePoint already has 510(k) clearance and a CE marking for its Nvision VLE Imaging system based on the technology, which can be used to guide high-resolution optical imaging/biopsies and will be paired with ablation to quicken the time between diagnoses and treatments.

As far as the pill-sized imaging device, it is a noteworthy advance. Companies like Given Imaging ($GIVN) have developed pill-cameras for endoscopic procedures to generate a look inside. The new Massachsuetts General Hospital/NinePoint device appears to have a more detailed focus and is deployed and pulled back in a matter of minutes.

For the trial, the capsule was attached to a string-like tether, which is in turn connected to an imaging console and lets a physician control the system. A patient swallows the capsule. Once it reaches the top of the stomach the tether helps pull it back so the doctor or clinician can take images of the esophagus using optical frequency domain imaging. Seven of the patients involved in the trial were healthy and 6 had Barrett's esophagus. The researchers explain that they could conduct the imaging in a minute and sending the device up and down the esophagus twice took 6 minutes--a big improvement over a typical 90-minute endoscopic procedure. Plus, the patients said they were comfortable with the procedure.

What's more, researchers said the device generated detailed images and gave information that an endoscopy would not. More importantly, they were able to distinguish cellular changes relating to Barrett's esophagus, something that regular endoscopies can't always do. More trials are needed, of course, but the hope is that the device could become an inexpensive alternative to regular endoscopic procedures and possibly discover/treat esophageal cancer much sooner. Earlier prevention and treatment will prevent trauma from late diagnosis of what can be a particularly deadly form of cancer. Prevention is also more cost-effective, a point that is becoming increasingly important to leaders of our ever-more-expensive healthcare system as they seek to manage escalating costs.

- read the release
- here's the Nature Medicine study
- check out the BBC's take

Special Report: NinePoint Medical – 2012 Fierce 15

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