Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have pioneered the creation of an indigestible pill designed to induce a feeling of satiety and decrease food consumption. In animal trials, this innovative pill successfully reduced food intake by a substantial 40 percent. The researchers envision its potential as a minimally invasive solution for treating obesity, addressing the rising prevalence of this health issue.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the obesity rate in the US increased from 30.5 percent in 1999-2000 to 41.9 percent in 2017-2020. This surge in obesity contributes to higher medical costs, with obese adults incurring $1,861 more than those with a healthy weight. Moreover, obesity elevates the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. While non-medical interventions like diet and exercise may not always prove effective, medical solutions often involve invasive procedures such as gastric bypass surgery. Recent weight-loss drugs are available but can be costly and typically require injections, highlighting the need for a simpler, non-invasive alternative.

The pill developed by MIT researchers capitalizes on the natural mechanism of stomach distension during food consumption. When the stomach stretches, mechanoreceptors signal the brain, triggering reactions that include the production of insulin and hormones like C-peptide, Pyy, and GLP-1. These hormones induce a sense of fullness, suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin, and prompt individuals to stop eating. The researchers, led by MIT graduate student Shriya Srinivasan, explored the idea of artificially stretching the stomach lining through vibration to create the illusion of enlargement and activate these hormones.

The resulting pill, approximately the size of a multivitamin, contains a vibrating element within a gelatinous membrane. Orally ingested, the pill dissolves in gastric juices, completing a circuit to activate the vibrating element through a silver oxide battery. In animal trials, the vibrations triggered mechanoreceptors, leading to the release of hormones at levels comparable to those observed after a meal, even during fasting.

Activation of the pill for 20 minutes before providing food resulted in a remarkable 40 percent reduction in food consumption compared to non-activated scenarios. The researchers also observed a slower rate of weight gain when the pill was administered. Designed to vibrate for around 30 minutes in the stomach, the pill was naturally passed out by animals within four to five days.

Looking ahead, the researchers are exploring wireless activation for prolonged retention in the human stomach. This breakthrough holds promise as a groundbreaking approach to weight management, offering a potential solution to combat the growing obesity epidemic with a simple and non-invasive intervention.

By Impact Lab