When someone has gallstones, treatment typically involves the removal of their gallbladder. This is usually done laparoscopically, in a procedure known as a cholecystectomy. A group of scientists from the Second People's Hospital of Panyu District and Central South University in China, however, have created an endoscope that they say is able to locate and remove gallstones while leaving the gallbladder intact.

The device has an ultrasonic probe at its tip, that is used to locate the stones. It can reportedly even find small ones, embedded in the lining of the gallbladder. While it isn't entirely clear how the endoscope deals with larger stones (one would assume it blasts them apart), it is able to suck up fine, "sludge-like" stones using its horn-shaped "absorbing box."

Should laparoscopic surgery be necessary, an integrated fluid channel can also be used to inject water into the gallbladder, to increase the size of its interior cavity. The device has standard interfacing hardware, so it can be connected to typical camera systems worldwide.

In clinical trials conducted at two hospitals, there was found to be little difference in the surgical safety of the new endoscope, and one commonly used for cholecystectomies. Additionally, its flexibility, reliability and image quality were reported to be better.

A paper on the research has been accepted for publication in the American Institute of Physics' journal Review of Scientific Instruments.