New vibrating pill may help treat obesity

About 39% of world's population is obese

27-Dr-Shriya-Srinivasan Dr Shriya Srinivasan

Researchers at MIT have developed an ingestible capsule that vibrates in the stomach and tricks the brain into thinking the stomach is full, potentially helping people lose weight.

About 39 per cent of the world’s population is considered to be obese. Pharmacological treatments that are currently available have a lot of side effects and are not affordable for most people.

Developed by Dr Shriya Srinivasan, now an assistant professor at Harvard University, and colleagues, the pill is powered by a small silver oxide battery. Once it reaches the stomach, gastric acids dissolve a gelatinous membrane that covers the capsule which completes the electronic circuit and activates the vibrating motor. Vibrations from the capsule activate the same stretch receptors (sensory structures that detect stretching in muscles and organs) that perceive when the stomach is expanded, mimicking a sense of fullness.

These receptors signal the brain to release insulin and other hormones that aid digestion and provide a feeling of fullness and limit eating. It also reduces levels of the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin.

When animals were given this pill 20 minutes before eating, hormones that signal satiety were released and they ate about 40 per cent less than usual. They also gained weight more slowly during periods when they were treated with the vibrating pill.

The current version of the pill vibrates for about 30 minutes and passes harmlessly through the digestive tract within four or five days. Researchers are studying the possibility of keeping the pill in the stomach longer and turning the vibrations on and off wirelessly as needed. They are also exploring ways to facilitate human clinical trials.

The findings were published in Science Advances.