VIDEO: The Israeli-designed pill inspired by missile tech set for a NHS rollout
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VIDEO: The Israeli-designed pill inspired by missile tech set for a NHS rollout

Designed to be swallowed by patients, Pillcam takes regular photographs as it travels through the bowels

Michael Daventry is foreign editor of Jewish News

An Israeli researcher who helped create a pill-sized camera that scans bowels for cancer and is set to be rolled out by the NHS this year has described how it was inspired by missile technology.

The Pillcam device, also known as a colon capsule endoscopy, allows patients to be scanned without the need for an invasive procedure.

NHS England announced earlier this month that it would be trialled by an initial group of 11,000 patients in England in more than 40 parts of the country.

Rafi Nave, an alumni from Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology who is now a senior researcher at the Samuel Neaman Institute, said the pill was conceived nearly 40 years ago.

He told the Jewish News it happened during a conversation at a barbecue between a gastrologist and missiles engineer Gabi Iddan.

“A missiles engineer called Gabi Idan, [who] was in sabbatical in the US, I think it was in Philadelphia, and he met there in one of those barbecues a gastrologist.

“This guy told [Gabi] about the problem: ‘I can show an endoscope from the mouth one side and the other end, but in the other end there are six-seven metres of small bowel that I cannot reach.’

“He said, ‘you’re an engineer, can you figure how I could visualise what happens in the middle of the guts?

“And this guy, Gabi Iddan, thought about it and said, ‘Hey, this is actually what our missiles are doing. They’re hovering over the terrain, they are taking pictures and they are retransmitting them to some ground station and they decide to do with what they see.”

The device is roughly 3 cm long and has cameras on both sides. It flashes repeatedly as it passes through the digestive system to offer illumination as the photographs are taken.

Nave said the device had already saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

“It’s also changed or improved the lives of three million people, because a physician knows what you have internally.

“If you are bleeding, if you have an ulcer, if you have this and that, and he knows whether to give you a diet, whether to give you some medicine or whether to go to surgery.”

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