Controlling Appetite: The vagus nerve has become the central point of operation for scientists to develop electronic devices to control eating. This device, the VBLOC, has had mixed results, says BBC News: "Recently published data from a clinical trial of the 'VBloc' device, involving 239 patients, showed more than half of those using it had lost at least 20% of their excess body weight—although the company said results were not as good as had been expected."
Credit: Doug Stevens. LA Times; EnteroMedics
Source: LA Times
An article, by Neil Bowdler, in BBC News says that British scientists have designed an implantable microchip that will help reduce obesity; the intelligent chip, which is expected to undergo human clinical trials in three years, has come out of the work of Imperial College in London, led by Prof Chris Toumazou and Prof Sir Stephen Bloom:
The chip, Bowdler writes, "is attached to the vagus nerve which plays a role in appetite as well as a host of other functions within the body."
It involves an 'intelligent implantable modulator', just a few millimetres across, which is attached using cuff electrodes to the vagus nerve within the peritoneal cavity found in the abdomen. The chip and cuffs are designed to read and process electrical and chemical signatures of appetite within the nerve. The chip can then act upon these readings and send electrical signals to the brain reducing or stopping the urge to eat.
The researchers say identifying chemicals rather than electrical impulses will make for a more selective, precise instrument. The project has just received over 7m euros (£5.9m; $9m) in funding from the European Research Council. A similar device designed by the Imperial team has already been developed to reduce epileptic seizures by targeting the same vagus nerve.
"This is a really small microchip and on this chip we've got the intelligence which can actually model the neural signals responsible for appetite control," Prof Toumazou told the BBC. "And as a result of monitoring these signals we can stimulate the brain to counter whatever we monitor.
"It will be control of appetite rather than saying don't eat completely. So maybe instead of eating fast you'll eat a lot slower." He said initial laboratory trials had already demonstrated proof of concept. Prof Bloom, who heads Imperial's diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism division, said the chip could provide an alternative to "gross surgery".This design is among a few being developed in the United States and Europe. Given the number of health problems associated with obesity worldwide, including higher risks of strokes, heart attacks and diabetes, such implants might prove to be a viable solution to help individuals control their appetites, and thus improve their ability to live longer, more fuller lives.
It is likely that this British-made chip, if it proves successful in clinical trials, will at first be used for the most severe cases of obesity, and then become a marketable device for all consumers who desire to lose weight. In the future, obesity might be a thing of the past, something that ended in our age.
You can read the rest of the article at [BBC News]