If only weight loss were as simple as taking a pill, right?
It is a common refrain, often explored by those selling dark diet pills, fat burning supplements, and fast adjustment schemes online.
Before your skepticism stiffens into concrete, consider this: An MIT researcher says his team developed a sophisticated pill that could reduce the space inside their stomach, making it easier to avoid excess calories.
Although he does not offer money-back guarantee, Xuanhe Zhao – associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT – is part of a team that has developed a pill that grows to the size of a golf ball after it is ingested and can remain inside it. the stomach for up to a month.
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The pill is still being tested in models that resemble the human gastrointestinal tract, but researchers hope to market the technology one day.
"The idea is that you would eat some of these pills, they would swell in the stomach and occupy very soft materials to make people feel full and eat less," Zhao said. "It's simpler than surgery or putting painful rubber balloons in someone's stomach to make themselves eat less."
For those who need extreme weight loss, the options can seem scary and invasive. Surgeries such as gastric bypass and vertical gastrectomy reduce stomach size – decreasing the number of calories the body can absorb – but are irreversible and carry frightening risks, such as blood clots and infection.
The appeal of the expanding pill is its simplicity, Zhao said. The pill is made from two types of hydrogels – mixtures of polymers and water. Once swollen, Zhao said, the pill has a consistency similar to tofu or jelly.
To remove the objects from the stomach, he said, a patient would drink a solution of calcium (in a concentration greater than that of milk) that would shrink the pills to their original size, allowing them to pass through the digestive system.
Zhao said that weight loss is a potential application for technology, but there are others. For years, he said, researchers have been trying to develop a pill capable of staying inside the human body for weeks or even months – a branch of research known as "ingestible electronics." The challenge, he said, was to design a pill small enough to be taken orally, but hard enough to withstand the dangerous environment inside the human stomach with its acidic juices and muscle squeezers.
"We really needed a pill to swell fast enough before the stomach emptied," Zhao said, noting that the pill's design was inspired by the pufferfish, which quickly sucks up water to inflate its size and avoid predators.
Oddly enough, this pill would allow doctors to monitor conditions within the body, such as pH balance, viruses, bacteria, or temperature. Researchers say the pills can also be used to put tiny cameras inside the body that could monitor tumors and ulcers over time. The sensors embedded in the pill could monitor whether a patient was taking medication on time.
Not taking medicine – or "non-drug adherence" in the health world – is a "common and costly problem," according to a study cited by the National Biotechnology Information Center.
"Approximately 30 percent to 50 percent of US adults do not adhere to long-term medications, leading to an estimated $ 100 billion in avoidable costs annually," according to the 2013 study.
Monitoring a patient on the inside may seem futuristic, but it is already occurring.
At the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Clinic, doctors are incorporating tiny pill sensors that allow them to monitor heart rate, activity level, and sleep cycle of chemotherapy patients. The sensor, which is about the size of a grain of sand and dissolves in the gastrointestinal tract, also tells doctors when a patient has taken medication. The information is compiled into a database that doctors can access from their devices.
"I had a patient whose hands ached and she could not open her bottle of pills," said doctor Edward Greeno, noting that when the patient's daughter was around, she took her pills, but when the daughter. "The app is telling me in real time that she did not take her pills and I get the message in the clinic the next morning."Details