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February 3, 2021

Tiny wireless device might help combat obesity

Texas A&M University researchers have developed a medical device that might help with weight loss while requiring a simpler operative procedure for implantation. The scientists say their centimeter-sized device provides the feeling of fullness by stimulating the endings of the vagus nerve with light. Unlike other devices that require a power cord, their device is wireless and can be controlled externally from a remote radio frequency source.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Vagus lights.

I'm Bob Karson with The Discovery Files, from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: Big Vegas music) Vagus! No, not Las Vegas, (Sound effect: riff cut off abruptly) the Vagus -- V-A-G-U-S nerve. Really a cluster of nerves that connects important body systems with the brain. One being the gastrointestinal -- specifically the stomach.

For those fighting obesity or other weight-related health issues, lap band surgery is sometimes used when all else fails. Intensive, invasive -- long recovery time. Now with NSF support, Texas A&M researchers have designed a completely controllable wireless implant that sends signals to the Vagus nerve to tell the brain the stomach is full even when it's not.

Fastened inside the stomach, the implantable device is shaped like a (Sound effect: ping pong sound) tiny paddle with a flexible tail. The main body -- about the size of a standard shirt button -- holds radio microchips, so a patient can remote-control it from outside. The flexible tail is like a small string of a few clear holiday lights: micro-LEDs, that when turned on, stimulate the Vagus nerve into relaying the (Sound effect: dashboard light ping) 'stomach full' signal.

(Sound effect: cartoon expansion sound) Conventional ways to suppress hunger meant working on nerve endings that sense the stomach expanding. The new device stimulates ones that sense fullness based on presence of certain chemicals in foods. The light-stimulation device may someday control Vagus signals of other organs, too.

Nothin' like a stimulating 'light' lunch.

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