This Vibrating “Pill” Could Aid with Weight Loss

This Vibrating Pill Could Aid with Weight Loss

When we eat, we feel happy. But this happiness has a bitter side. Weight.

Gaining weight not only spoils the appearance of our body but also leads to the emergence of various chronic diseases.

We resort to diet programs to lose weight. While some of us succeed, some of us give up this battle halfway through.

Engineers have developed a new method to get rid of weight. A battery-powered capsule-like device that will make the stomach feel full by stretching it using vibration.

According to MIT’s research, “when the vibrating Pill was given to pigs 20 minutes before a meal, the animals ate 40 percent less than they normally would, while their bodies released the usual prandial melange of hormones involved in insulin production and appetite suppression.”

Details of this potential weight loss “pill” were published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

“For someone who wants to lose weight or control their appetite, it could be taken before every meal,” Shriya Srinivasan, first author of the study and assistant professor of bioengineering at Harvard University, said in a press release. “This could be really interesting in terms of providing an option that could minimize the side effects we see with other pharmacological treatments.”

So why a swallowable, vibrating pill, you might wonder? It has to do with using stomach bloating to trick our body into feeling full. When sensory neurons in our stomach, called mechanoreceptors, are stretched by food (or copious amounts of fluid), they send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve, telling us to put a kibosh on the munching. This process is a feedback loop: an empty distended stomach sends fewer signals to the brain, which triggers hunger, while a distended stomach transmits satiety or fullness.

Then a graduate student at MIT, Srinivasan wondered whether it was possible to harness this physiological system to “create an illusory sense of distension that could modulate hormones and eating patterns.”

This Vibrating Pill
The Vibrating Ingestible BioElectronic Stimulator (VIBES) makes contact with the stomach’s lining, activating the muscles to stretch and signaling along the vagus nerve. Illustration drawn by V. Fulford for MIT. SHRIYA SRINIVASAN ET. AL / MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

After much development, Srinivasan and his colleagues created a pill no bigger than a multivitamin that runs on a silver oxide battery and is encased in a gelatinous envelope that dissolves once in the stomach and activates vibration.

Testing in pigs, the pill not only reduced how much the animals ate (compared to when it was not activated), but it did so by triggering the vagus nerve, causing the production of glucose-like hormones peptide 1 (or GLP-1) and peptide YY (or PYY), which play a role in insulin production and appetite suppression. This hormone release mirrored that typically seen after a meal, even when the pigs were fasting.

In its current design, the pill stays active in the stomach for just 30 minutes once inside, and poops within four to five days, at least as seen in pigs. (Fortunately, it has not caused any intestinal problems, such as blockage or perforation of the intestines.) The researchers hope to expand their prototype to last longer in the body, potentially being turned on and off wirelessly as needed.

Considering that diet and exercise are difficult to sustain, especially for long-term weight loss, and medical interventions such as gastric bypass surgery and the latest wave of injectables cost more than a pretty penny, Srinivasan and his colleagues want their vibrating pills to be an accessible alternative. The researchers point out that more research is needed to assess when the device should be given to optimize weight loss and its safety in humans.

For many populations, some of the more effective treatments for obesity are very costly. At scale, our device can be manufactured at a fairly cost-effective price point,” said Srinivasan. “I would love to see how this will transform care and therapy for people in global health settings who don’t have access to some of the more sophisticated or expensive options available today.”

Cover Photo: Courtesy of Shriya Srinivasan, Giovanni Traverso, MIT News)

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