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MIT Engineer Develops Vibrating Pill To Help Treat Obesity


MIT Engineer Develops Vibrating Pill To Help Treat Obesity

NEW YORK, NY (IANS) – An engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a new vibrating and ingestible capsule that could create a sense of fullness, tricking the brain into thinking it’s time to stop eating, and one day help treat obesity.

The ingestible capsule vibrates within the stomach, which activates the same stretch receptors that sense when the stomach is distended, creating an illusory sense of fullness.

In animals who were given this pill 20 minutes before eating, the researchers found that this treatment not only stimulated the release of hormones that signal satiety but also reduced the animals’ food intake by about 40 percent.

“For somebody who wants to lose weight or control their appetite, it could be taken before each meal,” said lead author Shriya Srinivasan, a former MIT graduate student and postdoc student.

“This could be interesting in that it would provide an option that could minimize the side effects that we see with the other pharmacological treatments out there,” added Srinivasan, now an assistant professor of bioengineering at Harvard University.

In the paper, published in the journal Science Advances, Srinivasan explained that when the stomach becomes distended, specialized cells called mechanoreceptors sense that stretching and send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve. As a result, the brain stimulates the production of insulin, as well as hormones such as C-peptide, Pyy, and GLP-1.

All these hormones work together to help people digest their food, feel full, and stop eating. At the same time, levels of ghrelin, a hunger-promoting hormone, go down.

“I wondered if we could activate stretch receptors in the stomach by vibrating them and having them perceive that the entire stomach has been expanded, to create an illusory sense of distension that could modulate hormones and eating patterns,” Srinivasan said.

Her team designed a capsule about the size of a multivitamin that includes a vibrating element. When the pill, which is powered by a small silver oxide battery, reaches the stomach, acidic gastric fluids dissolve a gelatinous membrane that covers the capsule, completing the electronic circuit that activates the vibrating motor.

In a study in animals, the researchers showed that once the pill begins vibrating, it activates mechanoreceptors, which send signals to the brain through stimulation of the vagus nerve.

The researchers tracked hormone levels during the periods when the device was vibrating and found that they mirrored the hormone release patterns seen following a meal, even when the animals had fasted.

The pill not only reduced the animals’ appetite by 40 percent, but it also helped animals gain weight more slowly during periods when they were treated with the vibrating pill.

The study also found that the animals did not show any signs of obstruction, perforation, or other negative impacts while the pill was in their digestive tract.

Compared to drugs such as GLP-1 agonists that are costly and must be injected, Srinivasan said the MIT capsules could be manufactured at a cost that would make them available to people who don’t have access to more expensive treatment options.

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  • This sounds like an important breakthrough. The following excerpts from the article, “ Engineers Design a Vibrating Pill for Weight Loss That Could Create a Feeling of Fullness” from Smithsonianmag.com, dated January 3, 2024, provide additional details.

    * The capsule is the size of a multivitamin, and in an experiment with pigs, it appeared to reduce the animals’ appetites
    * The capsule has a gelatinous coating that dissolves in stomach acid.
    * A vibrating pill that could trick your stomach into thinking it’s full could someday offer an obesity treatment that doesn’t rely on standard medications or surgery.

    * The device has not yet been tested in humans. But, in experiments with pigs, the capsule reduced the amount of food the animals ate by roughly 40 percent and triggered the hormones that signal satiety, according to a paper published in December in the journal Science Advances.

    * The pill is called the Vibrating Ingestible BioElectronic Stimulator, or VIBES for short. It contains a vibrating motor and a small battery made of silver oxide, all surrounded by a gelatinous membrane. Altogether, it’s about the size of a large multivitamin. When the pill is swallowed, stomach acids dissolve the membrane, which completes the electronic circuit and starts the motor.

    * The pill takes advantage of a physiological phenomenon discovered during past research: When a vibration is applied to a muscle, it creates the sensation that the muscle has been stretched farther than it actually has.

    * In the stomach, this stretching is called distension. When the stomach becomes distended, or full, the brain triggers hormones that signal it’s time to stop eating. Researchers wondered whether vibrations could artificially stretch the stomach and set off the hormone release patterns that typically occur after a meal.

    * After developing a prototype, they tested their invention on young Yorkshire pigs, which have a similar digestive system to humans.

    * The capsule has a long way to go before it could become available to humans. At least in theory, it could provide an affordable, minimally invasive alternative to existing weight loss strategies such as gastric bypass surgery and GLP-1 agonist drugs like Ozempic.

    * But many questions remain unanswered. For example, would people be willing to take such a pill before every meal? And what would it feel like to have a pill vibrating in your stomach?

    * “A pig can’t tell you how uncomfortable it is,” says Tom Hildebrandt, a clinical psychologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who was not involved in the new research, to Science’s Mitch Leslie.

    * In addition, it’s possible that the brain would eventually catch onto the illusion, which could make the pill less effective or cause it to stop working altogether.

    * “The brain might start to use other signals to decide how much to eat,” says Carlos Campos, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the project, to MIT Technology Review. “We don’t know how long that trick is going to work.”

    January 9, 2024

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