UK Scientists Design Obesity Microchip

Trials are due to begin to test an intelligent microchip designed to suppress appetite. In a bid to tackle obesity, the chip is attached to the vagus nerve, which regulates the numerous bodily functions, including:  breathing rate; heart rate; digestive acid secretion; gut contraction; and provides signals to the brain on how these functions are operating.

Using cuffs, the intelligent implantable modulator (chip) will be attached to the vagus nerve within the peritoneal cavity found in the abdomen.

Once in place the chips and cuffs can read and process both electrical and chemical signals relating to appetite from the vagus nerve. The chip will then relay these messages to brain, reducing the urge to continue eating.

During research, scientists found that reading chemical signals provide a more precise indication of when the stomach is full and a person needs to stop eating.

Prof Chris Toumazou and Prof Sir Stephen Bloom of Imperial College London are leading the research with over €7 million in funding from the European Research Council. They hope it will provide a more effective alternative to existing weight-loss surgery options.

Another chip device has been designed by the same team to help reduce seizures in people with epilepsy, again by attaching to the vagus nerve.

Speaking about the chip, Professor Toumazou explains: “this is a really small microchip and on this chip we’ve got the intelligence which can actually model the neural signals responsible for appetite control. As a result of monitoring these signals we can stimulate the brain to counter whatever we monitor. It will be control of appetite rather than not eating completely. So maybe instead of eating fast, you’ll eat a lot slower.”

Professor Bloom, the head of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism at Imperial College London, believes that the chip could provide a new alternative to “gross surgery”. Unlike gastric banding, the chip would reduce hunger pangs associated with other obesity treatments.

He goes on to explain: “there will be a little tiny insert and it will be so designed as to have no side effects, but restrict appetite in a natural way. As far as the brain is concerned, it will get the same signals from the intestinal system as it normally gets after a meal, and these signals tell it not to eat any more – the gut’s full of food and you don’t need to eat any more.”

Dr Tony Goldstone, senior clinician scientist and expert on obesity at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, has referred to the microchip as an “exciting and novel approach” to tackling obesity.

It is hoped that the microchip research may provide a simpler and cheaper weight loss procedure, which is reversible.