U prof begins researching new weight loss device

The device would trick the brain into thinking it isn't hungry.

A University professor has begun researching a new surgical option to help people lose weight.

Surgery professor Sayeed Ikramuddin has begun testing a device that would be placed on a nerve near a patient’s esophagus to see whether it is a safe and effective way to lose weight.

The first procedure to implant the device in test patients was on Monday.

“If it’s safe, people have lost weight, and there are no significant adverse effects, you’ll see it [on the market] quite soon,” Ikramuddin said.

The device is placed on what is called the Vagus nerve, which controls eating behaviors in the body. It is powered by a battery pack, allowing the user to turn the device on and off intermittently.

Once activated, it would interrupt certain communications through the nerve, essentially tricking the brain into thinking it isn’t hungry, helping patients lose more weight, he said.

Ikramuddin said patients should optimally lose more than 29 percent of their excess body fat within a year of receiving the device.

“It’s a pretty nice, simplistic device,” he said.

The University is one of 15 sites testing the device. In total, 23 people will be involved with the study at the University, Ikramuddin said.

The study is divided between those who have the device turned on and those who do not – after one year, however, everyone’s device is flipped on, and the study concludes after another five years, Ikramuddin said.

Tests for the device are limited to people with body mass indexes of 35 to 45, Ikramuddin said.

Body mass index is a relationship between someone’s weight and height . The higher it is, the more overweight a person is – adults with BMI’s of 30 or more are considered obese , according the Minnesota Department of Health.

Ikramuddin said a device like this one could draw a different demographic of patients.

“People that are younger, healthy, realize that weight’s a problem for them in their overall lifestyle in terms of achieving the things they need to do, in appearance,” he said.

Losing Weight – Which way is best?

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 63 percent of Minnesotans are obese.

For many, the easiest way to lose weight isn’t surgery, but balancing calories a person is taking in and burning, Daheia Barr-Anderson , a University physical activity researcher said.

“I think people try to make it very complicated, but it’s all about energy balance,” Barr-Anderson, who will be a kinesiology professor in the fall, said.

Barr-Anderson said obesity research meetings she attends discuss the whole “spectrum” of weight loss techniques.

Eating behaviors and physical activity are the best ways to lose weight, she said, although anyone whose goal is to lose weight through surgery or other means has to change one’s habits.

“Ultimately, whether you have the surgery,” she said, “they really have to make some behavioral changes. Make it really a lifestyle change.”

Ikramuddin said even the new device isn’t for everyone looking to lose weight – exercise and diet still come first, he said.

“Once you’ve crossed that bridge, you’ve recognized that your life is in jeopardy because of your weight, then [surgery] is reasonable,” he said.