27 October 2020
Arse2 D2: Robot colonoscopies potentially less painful
Researchers from the University of Leeds in the UK have spent over 12 years developing an intelligent and autonomous magnetic endoscope that can navigate the squishy labyrinth that is the human colon more deftly, and probably less painfully, than a traditional flexible endoscope.
Their paper, published in Nature Machine Intelligence on 12 October, sadly does not refer to this AI set up as a “robutt” or “Arse2 D2” or anything remotely fun.
It does, however, contain some language that less sophisticated readers might find giggle-inducing, while also being highly informative.
The robutt (we’re sticking with it) has “superior levels of intelligence and autonomy that could increase their navigational performance” in the “unstructured and dynamic” and “ever-changing” environment of the human colon, the article states.
The design of the flexible endoscope hasn’t been significantly upgraded since the 1960s and using it in a colonoscopy can cause significant pain and discomfort as the thin tube stretches the convoluted colon tissue.
Only an expertly trained person can operate the equipment, which limits access to this procedure around the world.
People with colon cancer have a 90% survival rate over five years if it is caught early but the disease can be deadly if missed, which provides a good reason for innovation, the authors say.
The new magnetic endoscopy guides itself through the colon using an external magnet and a real-time image analysis of the colon to direct its motion towards the centre of the lumen.
In the paper, the researchers get inexperienced and experienced clinicians to use the magnetic endoscope in a benchtop experiment as well as in pigs and show that the procedure is fast and less likely to cause pain.
One of the main drawbacks to earlier magnetic systems was that they were really unintuitive to use. But this new system does a lot of the movement and thinking itself so the clinician can focus more on the clinical aspects of the procedure, like identifying and removing polyps, the researchers said.
The robutt is … to put it bluntly… less of a pain in the arse. Hooray for science!