New "Gastric Pacemaker" Aims to Zap People Into Weight Loss

By Jennifer Welsh | March 9, 2011 8:23 am

Not many people would be excited about getting shocks to their vagus nerve, but a new electronic device implanted into the abdomen does just that in an effort to keep appetites in check.

The tiny device, called abiliti and made by Intrapace, attaches to the vagus nerve, which sends status updates about the body’s organs to the brain. The pacemaker then hacks the nervous system’s normal communication, according to the company’s website:

The abiliti system is designed to support these good habits by making the patient feel full sooner when eating. The abiliti system may also help in keeping them satisfied longer and helping them to eat less frequently.

Intrapace reports that the 65 study participants in the initial trials have lost on average 22 percent of their body weight; the biggest loser dropped 38 percent. (These results  haven’t been published or peer-reviewed.)

The device is billed as an alternative to more invasive weight-loss procedures, like stomach bypasses or gastric bands, and may have fewer side effects. It is implanted into the abdomen, where it floats around near the stomach, connected to nerves by electrodes through which it senses how extended the stomach is and sends the “not hungry” signals to the brain.

The AP’s Maria Cheng talked about the experience with an abiliti patient who dropped 22 of his 229 pounds:

He said they make him feel full after finishing about half the amount of food he would normally eat. “It feels like a little pressure on my stomach or a tickle, but it’s not a bad feeling,” he said in a telephone interview.  “It’s been like a little guide to help me change my life,” he said.

The pacemaker also has an accelerometer, so your doctor spy on you to find out how much you eat and how often you are exercising (though presumably it wouldn’t work for an exercise like biking), the website states:

The system also collects the output of the food detection and activity sensors intended to provide a detailed picture of food consumption and exercise trends. These data can be downloaded at the physician’s office and may be used by patients and their healthcare provider to monitor their progress toward weight loss goals.

Some experts worry that the brain might get used to the stimulation and ignore it; Stephan Rossner, an obesity expert quoted by Cheng says the bionic stomach doesn’t address the real causes of obesity:

“A lot of obese patients eat because they’re depressed, they can’t sleep at night, or they have nobody to have sex with,” he said. “So whatever you insert into their stomach, they can out-eat that device because it’s other things that drive them to consume.”

Sadly, the device is only currently available in Germany, Spain and the UK, so us chubby, lazy Americans will have to wait until 2014 to have our bionic, self-regulating stomachs implanted.

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Image: Intrapace

  • Cathy

    Er, doesn’t the vagus nerve also control other things? Seems very dangerous to tamper with it. And the results aren’t spectacular enough – dropping 22 lbs when you’re morbidly obese is going to help a little, but it won’t make you healthy. This also won’t address the problem of what you eat, which is the real cause of obesity. You can stuff yourself to bursting with fresh veggies and never gain a pound. Seems like these people could eat a dozen cookies, feel full, and call it a day.

  • reg

    might be a typo because higher up in the article says: ” lost on average 22 percent of their body weight”

  • Chuck

    Wonder if it will help folks with gastroparesis? I have a gastric stimulator/pacemaker from Medtronics and suffer from diabetic gastroparesis. It stimlates my stomach tricking the brain into thinking it is working. Has helped my severe nausea and vomiting I suffer with this. Wonder if they have tried it for other uses besides weight loss? Interesting research.
    Chuck

  • Betty

    I have gastroparesis (not due to diabetes). I am scheduled to have the gastric pacemaker implanted Sept. 1, 2011 and live in Charlottesville VA. This is now availalbe in the US!!!!! Hope it works.

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