Endoscope is a device that uses small cameras mounted on flexible tubes that can be inserted into the body to visually examine an organ or tissue without surgery. Health professionals often use endoscopy to determine whether a biopsy is needed. Rice university researchers have now developed a new low-cost, portable, battery-powered micro-endoscope that could eventually eliminate the need for costly biopsies for many cancer patients, revealed a clinical study of patients in the US and China.
The new high-resolution micro-endoscope uses a one millimeter wide fiber-optic cable that is attached to the standard endoscope. This cable transmits images to a high-powered fluorescence microscope, and the endoscopist uses a tablet computer to view the microscope's output.
Lead researcher Rebecca Richards-Kortum, professor at Rice University, said, "For patients, biopsies are stressful and sometimes painful. In addition, in low-resource settings, pathology costs frequently exceed endoscopy costs. So the micro-endoscope could both improve patient outcomes and provide a significant cost-saving advantage if used in conjunction with a traditional endoscope."
147 US and Chinese patients undergoing examination for potential esophageal cancer were involved in the clinical study. All the study participants with suspect lesions were examined with both a traditional endoscope and the new micro-endoscope. Biopsies were obtained based upon the results of the traditional endoscopic examination. A pathology exam revealed that 58% of those receiving biopsies did not have high-grade pre-cancer or cancer. The researchers found that the micro-endoscopic exam could have spared unnecessary biopsies for about 90% of the patients with benign lesions.
Clinical studies of this new micro-endoscope are either planned or underway for a dozen types of cancer including cervical, bladder, oral and colon cancers.
The findings appear online in Gastroenterology.