Scientists have been struggling for decades to solve the riddle of skyrocketing obesity, but a group of researchers – led by a professor at ETH-Zurich named Martin Fussenegger – believe they may have found an answer: a weight loss implant.
The research team from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel, Switzerland has developed an implant made up of human genes which is capable of monitoring the levels of fat circulating in the blood and then creating a substance that sends out satiety messages to the body when these levels rise too high.
To build this extremely complex weight loss implant, the scientists combined different genes that make specific proteins and chemical reactions and then implanted this grouping of genes into human cells. These cells were then placed into very small capsules.
The team then tested the device in obese mice that were fed fatty food. After receiving the implant, the animals stopped eating and their weight began to drop. And, when the levels of fat in their blood returned to normal, the implant stopped producing the satiety hormone.
The mice lost weight despite the fact that the animals were provided with as much calorie-laden food as they desired, says Fussenegger. The implant was able to send them signals that they were satisfied with less food when the levels of fat in their blood rose too high.
Comparison mice who were given a regular diet containing only 5 percent fat, however, did not lose any weight or eat less.
One big advantage with the new weight loss implant, the researchers say, is that it is capable of detecting several different types of fat which are often found in various combination in foods, such as saturated and unsaturated vegetable and animal fats.
Unfortunately the implant is not yet ready for use in humans. And, it may take several years before this new technology is ready for use as a weight loss aid. Fussenegger says he believes that this will eventually happen though, with obese individuals being able to use this method instead of liposuction or gastric bands. Being able to use a weight loss implant would be a much less invasive way to treat obesity, he says. It would also have the advantage that it makes use of natural weight control mechanisms that humans already have in place.
The gene network that the scientists developed is the most complex that the team has ever formulated and was made possible due to their many years of experience in this area. This technology has applications in many other areas as well, they say. Several years ago, they used this same type of process to create an implant to combat a metabolic disease called gout, which causes high levels of uric acid to be deposited in the joints, leading to pain and inflammation.
A previously developed weight loss implant, called the abiliti system, involves the implantation of a pacemaker-like device which sends electrical stimulation to the stomach in order to control appetite. The device also has a sensor to detect and monitor how much much food and drink that a person is consuming. This device, which is unrelated to the new gene-based weight loss implant, is only available in the European Union.
A write-up about the gene-based weight loss implant study was published on November 26, 2013 in the journal Nature Communications.
By Nancy Schimelpfening