UMMS gastroenterologist a pioneer in endoscopy devices

Professor Cave talks with Boston Globe on what’s next for pill-sized technology

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

August 19, 2013

When the FDA approved swallowable endoscopy capsule technology for diagnosing intestinal disorders twelve years ago, gastroenterologist David Cave, MD, PhD, was the first and, for some time, only doctor in the region to use it. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” Dr. Cave, professor of medicine, told the Boston Globe recently. Now, “It’s become pretty widespread.”

Cave commented on why he likes the technology—and hopes insurers will expand coverage for its use—in the Aug. 19 Globe article.

The pill-sized device is swallowed and then takes photos as it moves through the digestive tract. Photos are recorded by a cellphone-like transmitter that patients strap around their waist during the procedure. Cave, who has used endoscope capsules with more than 5,000 patients since 2001, finds they are particularly useful for evaluating disorders of the 15-to-20 feet of small intestine a standard endoscope can’t reach. The capsules produce “beautiful photos in a non-invasive way” without the need to sedate the patient, he said.

But while swallowable imaging capsules keep improving, Cave pointed out that they are not used routinely because many insurers will only cover the procedure if a traditional endoscope has not yielded a definitive diagnosis. He hopes this may change in the future, especially as improvements in image quality make the devices, now primarily used for diagnosing disorders of the small intestine, a viable alternative to colonoscopies.

Noting that little more than half of those eligible for colonoscopy screening in Massachusetts undergo the invasive procedure, Cave said, “Perhaps some of them would be willing to undergo screening if they had a colon capsule.”

Read the full story “Swallowable imaging capsules not widely used,” published in the Globe’s Aug. 19 Health & Wellness section.