An ingestible balloon can help the obese dramatically lose weight without invasive surgery. The balloon is swallowed, then filled with water while it’s still in the stomach. After 16 weeks, the balloon spontaneously collapses and its contents are excreted with no danger to the patient whatsoever. On average, each patient lost around 15 kg.

elliptic balloon

The balloon is swallowed and then filled with water through a tube that is later detached. Credit: Zack Williamson/WilliamsonVisual.

The procedure was demonstrated by researchers led by Roberta Ienca, from the Department of Experimental Medicine, Food Science and Endocrinology at Sapienza University, Rome. The team recruited 38 obese patients for their 1st phase clinical trial. At the end of the 4-month period, the average reported weight loss was 15.2 kg (33.5 lbs) or about a third of their excess body weight. By all accounts, that sounds mindblowing considering:

  • it’s temporary;
  • no surgery involved;
  • is cheap compared to other methods.
Credit: Roberta Ienca.

Credit: Roberta Ienca.

Right now, the go-to method for fast weight loss is bariatric surgery. The weight loss is achieved by reducing the size of the stomach with a gastric band or through the removal of a portion of the stomach (sleeve gastrectomy or biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch) or by resecting and re-routing the small intestine to a small stomach pouch (gastric bypass surgery).

If you find all of that nasty, you’re not alone. Post-surgery, there could even be complications like:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection
  • Adverse reactions to anesthesia
  • Blood clots

    ellipse balloon

    Graphic: ZME Science.

  • Lung or breathing problems
  • Leaks in your gastrointestinal system
  • Death (rare)

Moreover, it can cost a fortune. The average cost of gastric bypass surgery is $23,000, the average cost of lap band is $14,500, and the average cost of sleeve gastrectomy surgery is $14,900. Yet thousands are on waiting lists around the world for bariatric surgery because it works. Some patients can lose more than a hundred pounds extremely fast. But it’s not all rosy. After this type of surgery, you can only eat a couple of types of food and the patients need to undergo psychological counseling.

The new method developed at Sapienza, dubbed the Elliptic Balloon, is not meant to replace bariatric surgery. Unlike bariatric surgery which comes with lifelong change, the Elliptic Balloon is temporary and once it’s gone, that’s all you get. Basically, instead of cutting the stomach to make it smaller, the Italian researchers insert an object that reduces the volume.

The Elliptic Balloon technology is not meant for those who are extremely obese, though. Rather, its niche is geared towards those are moderately obese.

“Because the Elipse Balloon does not require endoscopy, surgery or anaesthesia, this may make it suitable for a larger population of obese patients not responding to diet/lifestyle treatment and also for use by a variety of clinicians — nutritionists, dietitians, and internists — who currently do not have access to or are qualified to fit endoscopic or surgical weight loss devices,” Dr. Ienca told The Guardian.

Findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal.

 

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