Nearly a quarter million patients undergo some form of bariatric surgery in the U.S. every year. And for the morbidly obese, having their stomach surgically altered can be a life-saver, but a Bay Area company has developed a new device designed to control the stomach, rather than change it.
"The primary therapy is stimulating the stomach. And what we're in essence doing is causing the sense of fullness the patient feels to happen faster than what's normal," said Chuck Brynelson, the CEO of Intrapace.
Intrapace, the Mountain View-based company, has developed a system using an electronic stimulator, similar to a pace-maker for the heart.
"So the device is implanted via a laparoscopic technique…into the peritoneal cavity," said Brynelson.
As shown in an animation provided by the company, electronic leads are then attached to the exterior of the stomach, in an area where neural pathways communicate with the brain. By stimulating those nerves, developers say the device, brand-named the Abiliti, can fool the brain.
"In essence, when your eating the stomach is expanding and so there are stretch receptors which then transmit a signal to the brain, you feel that sense of fullness," said Brynelson.
An external controller can communicate with the implanted unit using radio signals. Doctors can increase or decrease its strength depending on the patient's progress, or even turn it off completely for stretches of time.
"It's certainly enough time for the patient to make a lifestyle change, reach their initial goals and if the patient does require an additional device at the end of that time, the process for replacing the device is actually very straightforward," said Intrapace vice president Steve Schelenberg.
He says the unit can be easily removed or replaced after its lifecycle, without altering the stomach. The ability is currently in use in Europe, but not yet approved in the U.S. The company believes its safety data overseas would support clinical trials in the U.S. in the near future.
"A lot of these patients don't like the idea of some change to their anatomy, don't like the complications associated with those procedures, and so we would be able to provide them with a therapy that wouldn't have those same risks," said Brynelson.
The implant is also able to transmit data about a patient's eating patterns to a computer or hand-held device giving doctors and nutritionists more information about their patients' diets.
Written and produced by Tim Didion