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This tiny wireless device can help obese people lose weight, without surgery

Published on:11 January 2021, 18:11pm IST
A tiny wireless device, developed by the researchers at Texas A&M University, could very well replace the need for gastric bypass surgery.
ANI
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Could this technology put an end to the obesity epidemic? Image courtesy: Shutterstock

There is hardly a challenge we haven’t taken up in the name of weight loss. Then be it taking up complicated fitness challenges or experimenting with diets, ranging from intermittent fasting to Paleo. That said, not all measures work equally for everyone.

For many people, weight loss is a medical necessity and not just about the way they look. For them, bariatric surgery or gastric bypass surgery are the last resort. However, a tiny device armed with cutting-edge technology could very well change that.

You see, scientists have developed a tiny wireless device that could help to shed body weight by stimulating nerve endings. The best part? This device can be inserted via a simple implantation procedure.

This wireless weight loss device is an alternative to gastric bypass surgery

Gastric bypass surgery is sometimes the last resort for people who struggle with obesity or have serious health-related issues due to their weight. Since this procedure involves making a small stomach pouch and rerouting the digestive tract, it is very invasive and prolongs the recovery period for patients.

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However, researchers at Texas A&M University have developed a centimetre-sized device that provides the feeling of fullness by stimulating the endings of the vagus nerve with light. Unlike other devices that require a power cord, this wireless device can be controlled externally from a remote radio frequency source.

“We wanted to create a device that not only requires minimal surgery for implantation but also allows us to stimulate specific nerve endings in the stomach,” said Dr Sung II Park, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“Our device has the potential to do both of these things in the harsh gastric conditions, which, in the future, can be hugely beneficial to people needing dramatic weight-loss surgeries,” he added.

Obesity puts people at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. For those with a body mass index greater than 35 or who have at least two obesity-related conditions, surgery offers a path for patients to not only lose the excess weight but maintain their weight over the long term.

Meet the vagus nerve, the modulator of the brain-gut axis

In recent years, the vagus nerve has received much attention as a target for treating obesity since it provides sensory information about fullness from the stomach lining to the brain.

Although there are many medical devices that can stimulate the vagus nerve endings and consequently help in curbing hunger, these devices are similar in design to a pacemaker, that is, wires connected to a current source provide electrical jolts to activate the tips of the nerve.

“Despite the clinical benefit of having a wireless system, no device, as of yet, has the capability to do chronic and durable cell-type specific manipulation of neuron activity inside of any other organ other than the brain,” said Dr Park.

To address this gap, Park and his team first used genetic tools to express genes that respond to light into specific vagus nerve endings in vivo. Then, they designed a tiny, paddle-shaped device and inserted micro LEDs near the tip of its flexible shaft, which was fastened to the stomach.

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In the head of the device, called the harvester, they housed microchips needed for the device to wirelessly communicate with an external radio frequency source. The harvester was also equipped to produce tiny currents to power the LEDs. When the radio frequency source was switched on, the researchers showed that the light from the LEDs was effective at suppressing hunger.

The researchers said this device could also be used to manipulate nerve endings throughout the gastrointestinal tract and other organs, like the intestine, with little or no modifications. The workings of this device and findings of their research are published in the journal Nature Communications.