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March 2, 2024

New Vibrating Pill Shows Promise for Treating Obesity

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Dec 25, 2023

MIT researchers develop ingestible capsule that tricks the brain into feeling full

Researchers at MIT have developed an ingestible capsule that vibrates continuously in the stomach to make the brain think the stomach is full, according to a new study published this week in Science Advances. The vibrating pill, which requires no battery or external power source, represents a promising new approach for treating obesity and promoting weight loss.

The pill contains a tiny magnet, and vibrates thanks to electromagnetic energy transmitted by a wearable patch. In an initial trial with pigs, those ingesting the vibrating capsule ate less overall and gained less weight compared to pigs that swallowed a placebo.

“We are tackling the global obesity epidemic using sophisticated engineering approaches to modulate human physiology in ways that cannot be done with traditional medicines or pharmaceuticals,” said lead researcher Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at MIT.

Capsule tricks the brain into feeling full

The vibrating capsule works by tricking the brain into thinking the stomach is full, even when it’s not. The vibration activates nerve endings in the stomach, sending signals to the brain that promote feelings of fullness and satisfaction.

“It’s like having a little band in your stomach that’s playing music,” Traverso explained.

The researchers tested different vibration intensities and found lower frequencies around 1-2 Hz were most effective for curbing appetite. The capsule vibrates just enough to activate stomach nerves, but not so much as to cause discomfort.

In tests, the pigs consumed about 30% less food over a 14-day period when ingesting the vibrating capsules compared to placebo capsules. By the end of the two week trial, the pigs taking the vibrating capsules gained nearly 15% less weight.

Group Food Consumed Weight Gain
Vibrating capsule 30% less 15% less
Placebo capsule No change No change

“This represents an entirely new way to approach the treatment of obesity,” Traverso said. “Unlike pharmaceuticals that require daily doses and frequent doctor visits, this is a passive approach with an ingestible device that is programmed to operate autonomously in the stomach.”

Battery-free design enables continuous vibration

A key innovation enabling the vibrating capsule’s long-term functionality is its battery-free design. An external wearable patch adheres to the skin and contains electronics to power an electromagnetic field. The ingestible capsule has a tiny magnet inside, and vibrates continuously as it interacts with the alternating electromagnetic field.

This battery-free approach allows the capsule to vibrate for days or even weeks at a time – as demonstrated in additional pig trials. Avoiding batteries also makes the capsules safer, as leaking batteries can cause health issues.

The external patch is similar conceptually to an insulin pump, and would need to be replaced every few days. But it requires no direct intervention from the patient beyond occasional skin adhesion.

Could provide an alternative treatment for millions with obesity

The researchers believe the vibrating capsules could one day provide an alternative treatment option for the millions of people struggling to manage obesity. Nearly 50% of adults in Western countries have obesity, driving risks for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Current pharmaceutical options for obesity like appetite suppressants also carry side effects and often lose effectiveness over time. Bariatric surgeries like gastric bands can promote weight loss but are highly invasive.

The vibrating capsule provides a passive, non-invasive way to curb appetite and feelings of hunger. And preliminary pig trials showed no signs of the body adapting or becoming tolerant to the capsules over two weeks, suggesting longer-term efficacy.

The research team is now planning larger scale trials in pigs over months and eventually humans. They also hope to miniaturize the capsule further to enable easy swallowing. Pending additional safety testing, human trials could begin within 2-3 years, Traverso estimates.

Vibrating capsules could complement other weight loss efforts

While vibrating capsules aim to automatically curb appetite, experts say they would likely work best alongside other lifestyle efforts like diet and exercise.

“This seems extremely promising, but it’s not going to be a magic bullet,” said Dr. Louis Aronne, Director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medical College, who was not involved in the research. “Like all anti-obesity treatments, it probably works best when combined with moderate calorie restriction and increased physical activity.”

The researchers also caution the capsules are not intended as an overnight weight loss solution. But used responsibly alongside traditional weight management strategies, vibrating capsules could augment and sustain weight reduction over months and years for those struggling with obesity.

“Each individual responds differently to interventions targeting weight loss and maintenance,” Traverso said. “We aim to expand the toolbox of options available and provide patients and providers greater flexibility in tailoring integrated treatment plans.”

Ongoing and future trials will refine the capsules, determine optimal dosing, and test how vibrating pills stack up against other anti-obesity interventions over longer periods. The team also hopes to confirm safety for human consumption.

But if longer term outcomes echo these initial results, ingestible vibrating capsules could transform treatment paradigms for the nearly 650 million adults living with obesity worldwide.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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