Colonoscopy is a crucial weapon in the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer, one of the biggest killers in the west. But it can be a difficult procedure, as Pietro Valdastri, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, says: “It involves pushing a tube through the large intestine and is usually carried out under anaesthetic. Often, it becomes too painful to proceed or fails altogether.”
The alternative, developed by Pietro and his team, takes a different approach, using a robotic arm of controllable magnets to draw a thinner tube through the intestine. Being able to pivot its camera in three dimensions enables surgeons to better navigate and get a clearer picture of tell-tale polyps, which need to be removed. Clinical trials begin at St James’s Hospital in Leeds this year and, if successful, the technique could become a routine procedure in five years.