Enabling the future of colonoscopy with intelligent and autonomous magnetic manipulation

The magnetic flexible endoscope team have just published their latest work entitled ‘Enabling the future of colonoscopy with intelligent and autonomous magnetic manipulation’ – the culmination of 12 years of research by an international team of scientists led by the University of Leeds. The research has been published in the scientific journal Nature Machine Intelligence (https://www.nature.com/articles/s42256-020-00231-9) and reported in The Times, New Scientist and The Daily Mail.

Our system has been developed to reduce the pain and discomfort associated with colonoscopy, an important component in the move to make colonoscopy more widely available – essential if colorectal cancer is to be identified early. To achieve this, our system uses a magnetic, capsule-shaped device which is connected to a highly flexible tether. The device is then guided through the colon, not by the doctor or nurse pushing (the main source of pain), but by a magnet on a robotic arm positioned over the patient. This magnet on the outside of the patient then interacts with the capsule inside the body, navigating it through the colon.

For this latest work, we have developed and compare the performance of increased levels of intelligent and autonomous control for guiding the magnetic endoscope. These levels are:

  • Direct robot control. This is where the operator has direct control of the robot via a joystick. In this case, there is no assistance.
  • Intelligent teleoperation. The operator focuses on where they want the capsule to be in the colon, leaving the robotic system to calculate the movements of the robotic arm necessary to get the capsule into place.
  • Semi-autonomous navigation. The robotic system autonomously navigates the capsule through the colon, using computer vision – although this can be overridden by the operator.

Benchtop and porcine in-vivo trials showed that the introduction of more intelligent control strategies reduced procedure times, made the system easier for the user to control, allowed the device to more consistently reach the end of the large colon, and enabled a large portion of the colon to be autonomously navigated.

These techniques developed to conduct colonoscopy examinations could be applied to other endoscopic devices, such as those used to inspect the upper digestive tract or lungs.

With these results, we hope that robotic colonoscopy can increase the number of providers who are able to perform the procedure and allow for greater patient access to colonoscopy. We are currently aiming to perform patient trials using the system, beginning next year or in early 2022.


Parallel Helix Actuators for Soft Robotic Applications

Multi-chamber soft pneumatic actuators are useful for many applications, including medical and surgical robotic devices. However, existing methods used for their manufacture often require multiple manual steps, leading to reduced precision and an increase in size and complexity. In this new work, we present Parallel Helix Actuators (PHAs) which use helical interlocking cores to significantly reduce fabrication complexity, and allow for single material, small (< 1 cm) designs with 3D mobility. We hope this approach will facilitate new and improved soft robot designs.


Fundamentals of the gut for capsule engineers

A literature review on the Gastrointestinal tract has just been published by the STORM Lab UK in Progress of Biomedical Engineering.

The inspection of the GI tract is fundamental for the early detection and diagnosis of GI diseases. In the last decade, miniaturized robots for gastrointestinal inspection have been investigated with the aim of developing innovative, more sophisticated, and minimally invasive technologies to access this part of the body. Despite much progress, the need for innovation is stronger than ever due to the combination of a growing disease prevalence and the harsh, difficult-to-access environment of the gut. To address limitations and develop innovative and more sophisticated technologies for diagnoses and therapy of the GI tract, capsule engineers need to understand the complex environment of the GI tract. Therefore, the purpose of this review is to provide engineers in this field a comprehensive reference manual of the GI environment and its complex physical, biological, and chemical characteristics. The work reviews and summarizes a broad spectrum of literature covering the main anatomical and physiological properties; each organ in the GI is discussed in this context, including the main mechanisms of digestion, chemical and mechanical processes that could impact devices, and GI motor behaviour and resultant forces that may be experienced by objects as they move through the environment of the gut.


Robot Talk Ep 1: Medical Robotics

A new podcast talking about robotics has launched; episode 1 features Dr James Chandler a Research Fellow in STORM Lab who is working on low-cost, soft robotic technology for intravascular and endoscopic applications.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that robotics research is driving life-saving innovations – robots are already making a difference in clinics and operating theatres around the world. In our first episode, we’ll chat to researchers about how robotics is revolutionising medicine and surgery.

In our first episode, Claire is joined by Dr James Chandler (STORM Lab, University of Leeds) and Dr Matina Giannarou (Hamlyn Centre, Imperial College London) to talk about the exciting world of medical and surgical robotics and find out what they’ve been working on.”