Image by PillCam

An unusual drug trial just kicked off in the UK.

A group of 11,000 National Health Service patients across England who have experienced symptoms of bowel cancer are lining up to receive a special drug capsule that stores a tiny camera inside of it, which is designed to check for a variety of cancers.

"As we come out of 'peak COVID' and the disruption of the pandemic, the NHS is now pushing ahead with genuine innovation to expand services for many other conditions," NHS CEO Simon Stevens said in a statement.

"That’s why we’re now trialing these ingenious capsule cameras to allow more people to undergo cancer investigations quickly and safely."

"What sounds like sci-fi is now becoming a reality, and as these minute cameras pass through your body, they take two pictures per second, checking for signs of cancer and other conditions like Crohn’s disease," Stevens said.

The capsules, called PillCams, are easily swallowed and are far less invasive than other cancer screening methods, according to the researchers behind the capsule. The cameras inside each pill can take two pictures per second as they travel through the entire digestive system. The images are stored in a data recorder that the patient carries around with them.

"Every year in England, we diagnose around 42,000 people with bowel cancer, that's more than 100 people a day," NHS clinical director for cancer Peter Johnson told Sky News. "We think that this camera test might be a better option than waiting for a normal colonoscopy."

Swallowing the camera is also a lot less uncomfortable than traditional endoscopy, which involves sending a long flexible tube down the patient's throat and into the esophagus.

"The whole process was so smooth and so comfortable; it was literally pain free," patient Maryam Rad told Sky.