(CN) – A new treatment that involves freezing the nerve that carries hunger signals to the brain could help mildly to moderately obese people lose weight.
In a report presented Wednesday at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 2018 Annual Scientific Meeting, a team of scientists offers the results of the initial pilot phase during which every patient lost weight without experiencing any side effects. They hope one procedure will be sufficient.
“The goal of this procedure is to get people ‘over the hump’ – the initial challenge they face when their body fights back against their attempt to restrict calories,” co-author Sharon Horesh Bergquist said in an email to Courthouse News.
“After a few months, we hope that their continued efforts at diet and exercise will lead to ongoing success without the need of another intervention.”
The procedure involves an interventional radiologist inserting a needle through a patient’s back. Guided by live images from a CT scan, the doctor would then use argon gas to freeze a nerve known as the posterior vagal trunk. Located at the base of the esophagus, the nerve is one of several mechanisms that sends signals to the brain that the stomach is empty.
For the study, the team had 10 subjects with a body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 37 undergo the procedure. The subjects, who were followed for 90 days, all reported reduced appetite and an overall average weight loss of 3.6 percent of initial body weight. They also experienced an average loss of nearly 14 percent of their excess BMI. No procedure complications were reported, and there were no negative events during the follow-up.
“Medical literature shows the vast majority of weight-loss programs fail, especially when people attempt to reduce their food intake,” said lead author David Prologo, an interventional radiologist at Emory University School of Medicine. “When our stomachs are empty, the body senses this and switches to food-seeking survival mode.
“We're not trying to eliminate this biological response, only reduce the strength of this signal to the brain to provide a new, sustainable solution to the difficult problem of treating mild obesity.”
The team is recruiting more patients for a larger clinical trial of the treatment to determine its durability and effectiveness. They hope to launch the trial by January 2019. When the treatment will come to market is unclear, though Bergquist says it should be available relatively soon.
“The timetable for the treatment coming to market will depend on coverage benefits – whether it will be covered by insurance or offered on a cash basis,” said Bergquist, who is an internist at Emory University School of Medicine. “In either case, we anticipate one to two years.”
Bergquist adds that the team’s report shows obesity must be treated as a disease, rather than as a lifestyle-based condition.
“The most important take-home point of our study, we believe, is that obesity should be treated as a disease, similar to high blood pressure or heart disease,” said Bergquist. “There is a complex interplay between appetite hormones, our nervous system, and our gut that leads to resistance against sustained weight loss.
“Hence, we need to offer treatment options other than emphasizing individual willpower.”
The research was funded by HealthTronics, a medical technology company that produces the ablation probes used for the procedure.
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