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Businessweek Archives

A Fantastic Voyage Through Your Intestines

Developments to Watch

A Fantastic Voyage through Your Intestines

Could this be a James Bond endoscope? It's a high-technology, ultraminiaturized version of those long, flexible scopes that doctors use to examine the insides of your intestines. But this one doesn't have an optical-fiber cable connecting it to the outside world. Everything is packaged in a disposable submarine-shaped pill that you swallow.

A bit larger than a Centrum vitamin pill, the capsule contains a videocamera-on-a-chip, a tiny floodlight, a radio transmitter, and a battery. As the capsule makes its way through the digestive tract, digital images are transmitted to receivers that are taped to the patient's abdomen and connected to a Walkman-size recorder worn on a belt. The recorder also tracks the capsule's location within the body. The system has been tested on 10 people so far, including developers Gavriel Meron, president of Given Imaging in Yokneam, Israel, and Paul Swain, a gastroenterology professor at Britain's London Royal Hospital.

The main benefit of the video-pill technique is that the miniature endoscope can inspect regions of the small intestine that are difficult, if not impossible, to examine with regular endoscopes. The big disadvantage: The pill doesn't stop, and thus can't peer closely at suspicious growths. But that could change. The camera is a new type of imaging chip from Photobit Corp. in Pasadena, Calif. These chips can integrate camera, control circuits, and other features on the same hunk of silicon. That will help make it easier to add a navigation system to a future generation of videocamera pills. Edited by Otis PortReturn to top

Breast Cancer: New Hope for Slowing Its Spread

Breast cancer wouldn't be quite so terrifying were it not for the fact that the disease may not be detected until after tumor cells have spread to other parts of the body. How does the cancer make the leap out of the breast? And can the spread be stopped? Those have long been the two crucial questions nagging researchers.

While those questions still defy conclusive answers, at least scientists now have an important new clue. By comparing tumors that tend to metastasize with others that are prone to stay put, Danny Welch of Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine has found a gene that seems to make all the difference. For as long as the gene is active, it keeps the tumor from spreading, which should make the cancer easier to treat. But in late stages of the disease, he discovered, the gene often falters and opens the door to metastases.

Preliminary evidence suggests that the gene plays a key role in signaling between cells. Without the proper communication, the cells can run amok. A drug that gives the genes a boost, therefore, could maintain proper signaling--and prevent the cancer's spread. Discovering such genes, says Welch, "means a new possible class of drugs--and new hope" for breast cancer patients.Edited by Otis Port; By John CareyReturn to top

Add Consultant to Shopping Cart

Web exchanges beckon with vast arrays of chemicals, electronic parts, plastics, and even personal services. Now, there's also one for consulting projects in the information-technology arena, a $500 billion market. Two consultants formerly with Gartner Group Inc. and Andersen Consulting got bitten by the e-bug and, with backing from top execs at PeopleSoft, Oracle, Extricity, and others, launched IQ4hire in Chicago.

IQ4hire thinks big: It won't broker projects worth less than $250,000. That may seem a high cutoff, but in the world of enterprise consulting, it's small change. Meanwhile, the notion of direct price competition in an open-bid environment is making consultants nervous, says co-founder Vinnie Mirchandani. Not to worry, he adds. Consultants as well as clients benefit because "the cost of selling goes down dramatically on this channel."

With IQ4hire, vendors don't have to sink a lot of money into upfront market research and travel. Consultants and customers can take care of all the preliminaries on the site, says Mirchandani. The concept has certainly struck a warm response from companies looking for help. IQ4hire already has $25 million in "letters of intent" to buy services.Edited by Otis Port; By Neil GrossReturn to top

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