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Researchers developing software to improve colon exams

Computer technology developed with the help of Iowa State University researchers will analyze videos of colon exams and should help doctors improve the colonoscopy procedure they use to look for cancer.

The researchers' software and related hardware, for example, could analyze videos of colonoscopy procedures -- a tiny video camera at the tip of a flexible endoscope allows doctors to see inside the colon -- to determine how much time a doctor spent actually examining a patient's colon. The software could also determine how often the exam images were blurry and therefore useless to the doctor.

The technology, in other words, will be a good way to assess the quality of colonoscopy procedures, said Johnny Wong, an Iowa State professor of computer science, and Wallapak Tavanapong, an Iowa State associate professor of computer science.

"Our number one goal is to see how we can use computer technology to assist physicians in providing better health care," said Wong.

The Iowa State researchers are developing the technology with Piet C. de Groen, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., and JungHwan Oh, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of North Texas.

The researchers have incorporated a startup company, EndoMetric LLC, that will be located at the Iowa State University Research Park next spring. The company plans to market two products: EndoPACS, a software system to capture videos during colonoscopy and upload the videos to a central server for further analysis; and EndoMetric, a suite of software tools that automatically analyses the quality of colonoscopy exams and provides easy viewing of the quality measurements. A patent on the technology is pending.

The American College of Gastroenterology has awarded the research project its 2006 Governors Award for Excellence in Clinical Research.

The research project has been supported by a National Science Foundation grant of $578,850 over three years. The project has also been supported by a grant of $75,405 from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a state economic development program. The Iowa State University Research Foundation and the Mayo Clinic have also contributed $25,000 each to the project.

Tavanapong said the project started about four years ago at a computer science conference. She and Oh started talking about how their computerized video analysis could make a difference in people's lives.

That led to talk of analyzing medical procedures. That led to a proposal to study colonoscopy, a procedure that's expected to cost Americans up to $7.4 billion annually. And that led the researchers to work with the Mayo Clinic's de Groen, who had worked with Wong on several smaller projects involving electronic medical records.

The researchers say the colonoscopy technology has the potential to be adapted to other medical procedures that use endoscope technology, including examinations of bladders, lungs, stomachs and joints.

The researchers say their computer technology isn't designed to catch doctors making mistakes when they do those examinations. The technology is designed to improve the procedures by aiding training and helping hospitals track how their doctors perform them. The goal, according to one of the researchers' grant proposals, is to "enable large-scale, objective quality control."

"We want to improve the effects of these exams," said Tavanapong, "so the patients see the most benefit."

Johnny Wong | EurekAlert!
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