Gastrointestinal endoscopy has benefited from many advances in recent years thanks to the rise of the technological era. These have been related to gastroenterology itself as well as the ways in which we use endoscopic procedures to diagnose problems with the digestive system. But what further advances are in store for the endoscopy? Can it be made better as a diagnostic tool? What is the future of the endoscopy as we know it?
It will get smaller
In our technology-centred world, we are obsessed with making objects smaller and smaller. It’s no different in the medical sector and this can be highly beneficial for patients. We already have pill endoscopes which are routinely used for imaging the small bowel (they are not yet good enough for the stomach or large bowel). Researchers predict that we will soon have microendoscopes, as imaging devices reduce further and further in size. This will be less uncomfortable for the patient, will make endoscopies much easier and could mean better results.
Robots may replace traditional endoscopy
Yes, you heard it here first. It may be a while away yet but it is quite possible that tiny robots could be inserted into our bodies to patrol and manage our biological structures. This is a massive jump from the plain endoscopy imaging tube! The use of nanotechnology and testing of these robotic structures has already begun so who knows what the future could bring?
White light endoscopy may become obsolete
There have been lots of ways biology has benefited from other areas of science, most notably physics. Different imaging tools could take over the need for traditional endoscopies in the future. These include optical coherence tomography (OCT), which produces high resolution images, and Raman spectroscopy, which uses the scattering of light to identify different issues and abnormalities in the body. These could definitely be used for endoscopic diagnosis in the future.
Images will become more advanced
This is the most realistic and closest advance that we will see when it comes to endoscopic procedures. Over the past 40 years, the endoscope has changed from a fibre-optic device to a videoscope, and now the capsule endoscope is its most recent development. Every 3-5 years, the number of pixels in the endoscopic image doubles. This leads to clearer and sharper pictures which allow the doctor to diagnose ever more subtle abnormalities. It is predicted that software and imaging tools will get much better in the future, enabling doctors to see even more than what they can now during endoscopies. Indeed, at the London Gastroenterology Centre, we pride ourselves on using the most advanced kit, which we are always updating. Our consultant gastroenterologists are able to see tiny abnormalities already which other endoscopists simply miss. Add to this our specialist expertise in endoscopic imaging and you discover that we are able to diagnose far better than ever before.
Laparoscopic (keyhole) techniques will take over.
Using small incisions, laparoscopies can be a way to investigate problems within the body without entering through orifices. These are used to diagnose a variety of conditions and can also be a way to reduce surgery time (as problems like cysts can be fixed during laparoscopic procedures). We may see that laparoscopies are favoured over endoscopies in the near future.
It is already possible in principle to remove the appendix or gallbladder through the stomach. This is now called transoral incisionless surgery (TIS) as there are no scars and the entire operation is done through the mouth. This type of surgery is not yet widely available, but watch this space as it develops over the next few years.
Some of these changes could be seen in the next decade and it’s possible we may not see some in our lifetime. With the constant research and development happening within medicine as we speak, advances are made each and every day. Endoscopy is a fantastic way to explore the inner workings of the digestive system and imaging and diagnosis can only evolve and change enabling even more effective procedures in the future.