The world's smallest medical camera was unveiled this week by Israel-based biotechnology firm Medigus. The camera is .99 millimeters wide and boasts a resolution of 45,000 pixels—not high resolution by any means, but a shocking degree of clarity from a camera of that size. Because the camera is disposable, it will significantly cuts down on prep time for surgeries and endoscopic procedures thanks to being pre-sterilized. Even more importantly, the camera will significantly lower the cost of endoscopic diagnostic procedures. Reusable medical cameras require highly specialized, expensive sterilization procedures whose cost is often figured into patients' and insurance providers' bills.
Medigus's product is designed for use in both endoscopic diagnoses and surgery. According to a statement by Medigus, the camera is designed for use in cardiology, orthopedics, gastroenterology, gynecology, otolaryngology, robotic surgery, and bronchoscopy. While the camera is not on the market yet, Medigus will be both integrating them into their own endoscopic products and licensing the technology out to third-party manufacturers. Medigus will also be sending sample cameras to American and Japanese tech firms specializing in cardiology over the next few weeks.
The cameras work through a dedicated .66 millimeter CMOS sensor based on sensor design and production technology from TowerJazz. Just last week, another miniature camera called the NanEye was released by Portuguese firm Awaiba that is 1 millimeter wide, but the Medigus product is smaller and offers significantly better resolution.
Medigus Vice President of Sales & Marketing Yaron Silberman told Fast Company by email that “the camera has a better image quality than fiber optics, which are the current standard for visualization in narrow lumens. Thus, it will enable performing current procedures with greater confidence and safety and potentially enable additional new procedures.” According to Silberman, each individual camera price is expected to vary from under $100 for bulk purchases to several thousand dollars depending on the exact specifications, requirements, and order quantities.
To be sure, that's pretty spendy for a product that's considered "disposable," but cutting-edge tech doesn't always come cheap. Reusable cameras of similar size cost several times as much, but the attendant maintenance and repair costs (it isn't cheap to take care of a stomach-invasive camera, after all) can make the overall expense sky-high.
The miniature camera was developed jointly by Medigus and TowerJazz with assistance from the Israeli government's Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. Disposable medical cameras are big business; approximately 4 million cameras were sold to hospitals and health care providers in 2010 at a total cost of almost $500 million.
While the cameras are expensive, the reduction in surgery/procedure preparation time and expense they offer is significant. The interesting thing for medical technology buffs to follow is what kind of third-party products are built using the camera—and what happens when medical cameras miniaturize to ever smaller sizes.
[Image courtesy Medigus]
Clarification: An earlier edition of this article incorrectly stated the device's pricing.