Most adults past the age of 50 have, or should have had, one or more occasions to present their appropriately purged carcass for the magical mystery tour commonly known as a colonoscopy. Due to some marvels of my own body, I’ve had a bunch of colonoscopies, and even more endoscopies; I usually try to schedule them both on the same day. I’ve learned that in most cases, the G.I. physician exploring my innards with an endoscope, an appropriately named flexible camera with its own headlight, does not know the precise location of the device’s tip.

Thanks to the diligence of scientists at The University of Edinburgh College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, doctors may have a better idea of where they’re looking. The scientists have developed a camera that “sees through the body.” The report on the developments so far and a discussion of the results that indicate the technology works in vivo, that is in living bodies, was published in the journal Biomedical Optics Express, titled “Ballistic and snake photon imaging for locating optical endomicroscopy fibres.” The technology uses of a photon camera, a device that can detect individual light particles. The photo above this article shows what an image from a photon camera looks like through 20 centimeters of tissue on the left. The image on the right was taken with a conventional camera. Because light from an endoscope scatters and bounces off tissues and organs instead of traveling straight through, conventional camera images show huge areas rather than the pinpoint location derived with a photon camera.

The team in Edinburgh plans to continue development of this powerful new body camera technology with human trials expected sometime next year. The tests in the reported study were performed on chickens and sheep.  Photon imaging has the potential of many additional medical and surgical applications beyond colonoscopies, though tracking the tube through the intestinal track may be the earliest widespread use.