Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have taken a novel approach to weight management by developing an ingestible capsule that can create a feeling of fullness.
This breakthrough could offer a new, minimally invasive way to treat obesity.
When we eat a large meal, our stomach stretches and sends signals to the brain, creating a sensation of fullness. MIT engineers have designed a capsule that, once swallowed, vibrates inside the stomach.
These vibrations mimic the natural stretching of the stomach, activating the same sensors that signal fullness to the brain. This clever device tricks the body into feeling full, even when less food is consumed.
Published in Science Advances, the research demonstrates that animals given the pill 20 minutes before eating reduced their food intake by about 40%.
This pill could be a significant step forward in understanding and managing human body weight. If future research confirms its safety and effectiveness in humans, it might become a new tool in the fight against obesity.
Shriya Srinivasan, Ph.D., a former MIT graduate student and now an assistant professor at Harvard University, is the lead author of the study.
She explains that this pill could be taken before meals to help control appetite with minimal side effects compared to other treatments.
Giovanni Traverso, an MIT associate professor and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is the senior author of the paper.
The pill works by targeting mechanoreceptors in the stomach. These receptors sense the stretching of the stomach and send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve.
This process triggers the production of hormones that aid digestion, promote a feeling of fullness, and decrease hunger-promoting hormones.
Srinivasan’s idea was to activate these receptors artificially through vibration, creating an illusion of a full stomach.
Developed in collaboration with Traverso’s lab, known for its innovative drug and device delivery systems, the capsule is about the size of a multivitamin.
It contains a vibrating element powered by a small battery. When it reaches the stomach, the acidic environment dissolves a gelatinous covering, activating the vibration.
Animal studies showed that the vibrating pill activated the mechanoreceptors, simulating the hormonal patterns seen after eating.
When activated for 20 minutes before feeding, the animals ate significantly less and gained weight more slowly. Traverso notes that this method uses the body’s own systems rather than external drugs, offering a profound behavioral change.
The pill is designed to work for about 30 minutes in the stomach and can pass through the digestive system within a few days without causing harm. The researchers aim to adapt it for longer stays in the stomach and enable wireless control.
This innovative approach could provide an alternative to current obesity treatments, which often involve invasive procedures or expensive drugs.
The MIT capsule could be produced cost-effectively, making it accessible to a wider range of people, including those in global health settings.
As the next steps, the researchers plan to scale up manufacturing for human clinical trials. These studies will be crucial to understand the safety of the device and determine the optimal timing and frequency of administration.
The research findings can be found in Science Advances.
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