Tunnel-detection tech offers safer, cheaper colonoscopies
Israeli invention for remote imaging of smuggling tunnels leads to spin-off product for more comfortable, less expensive lower bowel imaging.
A promising new technology for improving colonoscopies got its start as a way to remotely explore smuggling tunnels.
When a tunnel is discovered, homeland security or military personnel need to quickly and safely determine what’s inside. Beersheva-based startup IBEX Technologies developed a thin inflatable “sleeve” that can be robotically piloted into a dark tunnel. A camera attached to the front end of the sleeve transmits real-time live video and high-resolution images.
IBEX’s RoboSleeve also can be used by first responders in disaster areas, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and collapsed mines, and to inspect sewage, water and gas piping systems.
As IBEX’s founders, Oleg Popov and Raphael Moisa, continued to work on their autonomous sleeve, they thought about other types of “tunnels” that might be relevant for their technology. That’s when they hit on the idea that would become Consis Medical, a spin-off from IBEX focused on the 2-meter long tunnel inside the human body: the colon.
Colonoscopies are the current gold standard for early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer, the second most lethal cancer in the world with 1.4 million new cases diagnosed a year worldwide.
Doctors recommend regularly colonoscopies beginning at age 50. More than 15 million colonoscopy tests a year are performed in the United States, and colonoscopies are becoming more common around the world. If colon cancer is caught early, the five-year relative survival rate is 92 percent.
However, colonoscopies are expensive. A single endoscope – the medical device used to perform the procedure – costs upwards of $60,000, and clinics typically purchase several endoscopes. In addition, cleaning an endoscope after each use costs about $100 due to the special equipment needed.
Moreover, the procedure is notoriously uncomfortable and runs a chance of complications, including perforating the colon.
Tested on animals and simulators
Based on its tunnel-investigation technology, Consis Medical designed a self-propelled disposable endoscope that enters the colon like a “soft elongated party balloon, the type you make animals out of,” Ido Agmon, Consis Medical’s business development manager, tells ISRAEL21c.
As the balloon inflates, using liquid or gas, an “inverted sleeve expands and carries itself all the way through the colon, gently and quickly.”
The device — so far tested in animal models and colon simulators — is meant to be cheaper, safer and more comfortable than a traditional endoscope, which Agmon describes as “an elongated semi-rigid tube that the doctor has to navigate through the colon. It’s very painful, it takes time and it’s not pleasant at all, not for the patient and not for the doctor either.”
There’s minimal friction between the colon and the Consis Medical sleeve because “it only expands from its front end and doesn’t have to be pushed,” he adds.
The balloon is discarded afterward. The only part needing cleaning is the electronic head containing a camera and light source.
“It’s the size of a capsule, less than 10 centimeters long,” Agmon points out. “That’s a big difference than cleaning a 2-meter-long endoscope with many small cavities and channels.”