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Japanese researchers claim invention of endoscope capsule

By Nicolas Ito, CNN
  • Researchers say they've invented the world's first self-propelled endoscopic pill
  • The capsule is 1 centimeter wide and 4.5 centimeters long
  • The device can be swallowed or inserted rectally

Tokyo (CNN) -- Japanese researchers have re-written the meaning of "it's a hard pill to swallow."

A research team from western Japan announced it has invented the world's first self-propelled, remote-controlled capsule endoscope.

The tiny capsule, measuring 1 centimeter in diameter and 4.5 centimeters in length, successfully captured images inside a human stomach and colon, say researchers from Ryukoku University and Osaka Medical College.

The blue and clear device looks like a large pill with a fin-like driving apparatus. Patients either swallow the capsule or have it inserted rectally.

The research team says the endoscope's movement is powered by a small battery and an electromagnet, which also drives the fin. More precise movement is generated outside the body by a joystick which is maneuvered by a researcher.

Researchers say this scope, nicknamed the "Mermaid," can take two shots per second.

Endoscopes in current medical use are uncomfortable for patients and are limited in their range of observation. The researchers call their endoscope a "revolutionary" step forward in the ability to diagnose diseases like cancer in the digestive tract.

They hope their invention will one day pave the way for doctors to view the digestive from esophagus to colon, including the small intestine, which traditionally has been difficult to shoot.

The research team first successfully tried the Mermaid on a dog in 2009. After some alterations, the team says it has now successfully moved through humans.