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January 24, 2002

Swallowing pill-sized camera to provide view of digestive tract

UPMC Health System gastroenterologists are the first in the state to offer the world's first capsule endoscopy system, in which patients swallow a pill-size camera that transmits images of the digestive tract that can be read on a computer.

"This pill allows us to see the entire length of the small bowel, which traditional endoscopic procedures were unable to do," said Adam Slivka, associate professor of medicine and chief of endoscopy, division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Pitt's School of Medicine and UPMC Health System.

The Given Diagnostic Imaging System helps the physician localize sources of bleeding that are invisible to diagnostic radiologic studies and inaccessible to standard endoscopy.

In the procedure, the patient swallows a capsule that contains a miniature color video camera, a light source, a miniature transmitter, batteries and an antenna. The capsule, which is the size of a large vitamin, passes through the digestive tract, where it takes video pictures of the small intestine and transmits them through radio frequency to a recorder attached to a belt worn by the patient.

The capsule passes through the body in approximately eight hours. The recorder is returned to the physician who downloads the pictures into a computer. The computer compiles the images, allowing the physician to view the capsule's progress through the small intestine.

"This pill currently has limited uses, but has great potential," said Slivka, who also is medical director of the GI lab at UPMC Presbyterian. "It will be interesting to see how this grows into other uses in the field."

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