Non-endoscopic balloon device

A capsule only 1.6 centimetres long conceals a mini-balloon that can be inflated in the stomach after the capsule is swallowed. Credit: Carla Schaffer/Moinova et al./AAAS

Cancer

A tiny balloon to survey cancer risk

Inflatable device samples cells for signs of a pre-cancerous condition.

An easily swallowed mini-balloon might offer a way of screening people who are at risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma, a deadly type of cancer.

Sanford Markowitz at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and his colleagues developed an aspirin-sized capsule containing an uninflated balloon. After being swallowed, the balloon can be inflated in the stomach, and then pulled through the esophagus and deflated before recovery through the mouth.

The team used the balloon to collect esophageal cells in the hope of identifying a biological marker for a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which often precedes esophageal adenocarcinoma. A genetic analysis of cells from more than 400 people, including samples retrieved using the balloon technique, revealed a pattern of DNA modifications that accurately detected 90% of Barrett’s-esophagus cases.

Barrett’s esophagus is currently diagnosed by passing an endoscope through the mouth into the stomach. The balloon method in combination with DNA analysis could provide an efficient and minimally invasive technique for screening large numbers of people, the authors say.