Some 1.5 million Americans suffer with IBDs — inflammatory bowel diseases — like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
Treatment for these autoimmune diseases can leave patients at risk for infection and even cancer.
For IBD patients, screening for cancer has meant repeated colonoscopies and tissue biopsies — as many as a dozen a year. The annual cost for this in the United States is more than $1 billion.
Now, a new laser could cut costs and the number of patient procedures.
The laser micro endoscopy has a tiny blue light. It is a small but powerful microscope for navigating the intestines.
With just a touch of the probe anywhere on the intestine wall, Dr. Rāzvan Arsenescu can magnify tissue a thousand times, spotting even the earliest abnormal cells.
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is one of the first hospitals in the country to use it. Before this laser, doctors had to depend on taking random tissue samples. Arsenescu said it was like stumbling around a huge dark room trying to find a needle.
"Whereas now, if I find something, I can act on the spot," said Arsenescu, director, inflammatory bowel diseases center, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
It's good news for Ben Buss, whose Crohn's disease has meant a new diet, medication, six colonoscopies in two years, and a surgery to remove part of his small intestine.
Buss had a recent probe that showed some suspicious cells. Without the new laser, they could have been missed.
"Anytime you're able to diagnose earlier things that might be particularly life-threatening like cancer, that's a great thing," Buss said.
It's a small light making a big difference in a deadly disease.
Doctors hope that eventually the laser micro endoscopy will be used to guide treatment not only for IBD sufferers, but also patients with lung, bladder and gynecologic diseases.