Could the future of weight loss be an implantable device that tells your brain you’re full after a few bites? Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison believe so.
They have developed a tiny device, measuring less than a centimeter across, which they claim is safe for use in the body and implantable via a minimally invasive procedure. It generates gentle electric pulses from the stomach’s natural churning motions and delivers them to the vagus nerve, which links the brain and the stomach. These signals trick the brain into thinking the stomach is full after only a few bites.
In the laboratory, the device has helped mice shed 40% of their body weight. “The pulses correlate with the stomach’s motions, enhancing a natural response to help control food intake,” says Xudong Wang, a UW-Madison professor of materials science and engineering.
This technology could be an alternative to the gastric bypass procedure, which permanently reduces the stomach’s food capacity. The effects of this device are completely reversible. When Wang and his team removed the devices from the rats after 12 weeks, they resumed their normal eating patterns and their weight returned to what it was previously.
But this isn’t the first time scientists have tried to use machines to spur weight loss. In 2015, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved a device called Maestro, which delivered high frequency zaps to the vagus nerve and shut down communication between the brain and the stomach. However, it came with a complicated control unit and required charging.
Luke Funk, a surgery professor at UW-Madison’s Division of Minimally Invasive, Foregut and Bariatric Surgery, called these maintenance requirements a major barrier, which makes Wang’s device superior. It has no batteries, no electronics and no wiring. It relies on the undulations of the stomach walls to power its internal generator. This means the device only stimulates the vagus nerve when the stomach walls move.
“It’s automatically responsive to our body function, producing stimulation when needed,” he said. “Our body knows best.”
Wang and his team have patented the weight-loss device and are testing it in larger animals. If successful, they plan on moving on to human trials.