Technology Fights Obesity With An Implant That Controls Hunger: VBLOC™
Some 400 million people worldwide are classified as obese. The manufacturer of the first implant to treat obesity, EnteroMedics, has vowed to install its first VBLOC implant in an obese person before the end of 2011. It has not yet passed muster in the U.S. but the VBLOC is in Phase III clinical investigations, so the device has a chance of making it into someone's tummy this year.
The VBLOC is essentially a neuroregulator that controls the signals that the vagus nerve communicates to the brain, particularly the signals that control the sensations of hunger, satisfaction, and fullness. Much like a pacemaker, the VBLOC implant is attached to the vagus nerve via electrodes which send high frequency pulses of electricity that interfere with vagus communication to the brain - particularly the signals that tell the stomach to expand, increases digestive juices and gastric acids in anticipation of food. But if these signals are interrupted, the stomach will feel full sooner and digestion will slow.
Though VBLOC implantation is considered minor surgery, it is one type of bariatric surgery that is being compared to gastric bypass surgery. The VBLOC is inserted laparoscopically, can be removed the same way, and does not alter the stomach's anatomy, whereas bypass surgery is very invasive and involves the permanent removal of part of the stomach.
In the image to the right, a woman controls the VBLOC signals with an external device, although its tuning must be made by the physician. The power of the patient to control his or her hunger is seen as a very positive aspect of the VBLOC. So far, VBLOC studies have not revealed any major concerns regarding the implant.