In an attempt to make colonoscopies less unpleasant, a team of scientists from the University of Leeds has developed a new robotic arm that takes the deed out of the hands of a human doctor.
There are probably few things that look worse than one robotic colonoscopy, but scientists say that the autonomous system trained in machine learning may be better able to guide an endoscope during a procedure than doctors, eliminating human error.
How does the robotic arm work?
The probe is a magnetic endoscope, a tube with a pointed lens, which the robot controls through a magnet external to the body.
The system can operate autonomously or can be controlled by a human operator using a joystick, which pushes the tip of the endoscope further along the colon. Valdastri compares movement to intuitive movement during a video game.
The system also keeps track of the location and orientation of the endoscope inside the colon.
Conventional endoscopes currently used during colonoscopies are difficult to operate and require trained specialists.
“Gastroenterologists often lose their sense of direction. I don’t know where it is up, down, left and right “, says Valdastri.
Instead, the robotic system uses an AI technique that has been trained on images inside the colon, which looks like a tube.
“The algorithm looks for a black circle in the middle of the image,” says Valdastri. “That black circle is the direction the tip of the instrument should go.”
Researchers have successfully tested this method on both an artificial colon and anesthetized pigs.
The scientists who participated in the creation of the robot believe that the magnetically controlled procedure may be less painful than conventional colonoscopies and could be used in patients without sedation.
The team plans to test the procedure with the help of five healthy volunteers over the next year. If successful, the medical robot will be used to perform colonoscopies in patients with inflammatory bowel disease.