New device offers ‘simpler' way to fight obesity

Obesity

The Ministry of Health’s 2015 STEPwise survey found that 27 per cent of Kenyans are either overweight or obese.

Photo credit: Fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • Obesity usually refers to a condition where a person carries excess body weight with a body mass index of over 30.
  • Obesity is considered a risk factor for chronic diseases such as heart disease.

A new wireless and noninvasive device has been developed to help people struggling with obesity to cut weight.

The device, developed by medical engineers and researchers at Texas A&M University, requires a simpler operative procedure for implantation in comparison to existing implants.

Currently, gastric bypass surgery is mostly the last line of defence against obesity. This surgery technique reroutes the way the stomach and small intestine absorb and digest food. The stomach is divided into a small upper pouch and a larger lower pouch which the small intestine connects to.

This method restricts the amount of food the stomach holds leading to weight loss. Obese people feel full with much less food. But, gastric bypass surgery is considered invasive. It also takes much longer to heal from.

“The new device, though, will require minimal surgery for implantation and also allows the stimulation of specific nerve endings in the stomach,” said Dr Sung Park, who led the team of researchers in the development of the device.

The device, dubbed wireless gastric optogenetic implant, works by stimulating the endings of the vagus nerve with light to produce a feeling of fullness.

The vagus nerve usually carries a range of signals from the digestive system and organs to the brain and the brain to the digestive tract. Interestingly, this device does not require a power cord. It is wireless and can be controlled externally using a remote radio frequency source.

Body mass index

This device is shaped like a paddle. It contains micro LEDs near the tip of its shaft which is flexible. The shaft is then fastened to the stomach. The head of the device which is called the harvester has microchips which enable it to work and communicate to external radio frequency sources wirelessly.

This harvester is also able to produce tiny currents that power the micro LEDs which produce light and stimulation to suppress hunger. The findings on this new device were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Medically, obesity usually refers to a condition where a person carries excess body weight with a body mass index of over 30. Obesity is considered a risk factor for chronic diseases such as heart disease.

In Kenya, obesity is one of the major emerging health concerns. The Ministry of Health’s 2015 STEPwise survey found that 27 per cent of Kenyans are either overweight or obese.

Nearly 40 per cent of these are women while 18 per cent are men. Similarly, according to a report on obesity in Kenya by the World Obesity Federation, 8.4 per cent of children aged five to nine are likely to be obese by 2030.

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