MIT likens a new vibrating capsule to drinking a glass full of water prior to eating. Dieticians recommend the latter as a method for sending to your brain to simulate the sensation of being full. The researchers behind the new project further suggest it as a future alternative to surgery and GLP-1s. The latter, which includes semaglutides like Ozempic and Wegovy, are both extremely popular and prohibitively expensive, owing in large part to pharma IP laws.
MIT’s capsule has seen some laboratory success. Giving test animals the pill 20 minutes before eating reduced their consumption by around 40%, per the team. Like the glass of water trick, the capsule stimulates mechanoreceptors, which send a signal to the brain through the vagus cranial nerve. Once activated, the brain kicks off the production of insulin, GLP-1, C-peptide and Pyy hormones, decreasing hunger while ramping up the digestion process.
“The behavioral change is profound, and that’s using the endogenous system rather than any exogenous therapeutic,” associate professor Giovanni Traverso notes. “We have the potential to overcome some of the challenges and costs associated with delivery of biologic drugs by modulating the enteric nervous system.”
The capsule, which is roughly the size of a standard multi-vitamin, contains a vibrating motor, powered by a silver oxide battery. After reaching the stomach, gastric acid dissolves the outside layer and completes the circuit, kickstarting the vibration.
Beyond efficacy, the team is working to determine the system’s safety. That requires a method for ramping up production and eventual human testing. “At scale, our device could be manufactured at a pretty cost-effective price point,” says post-doc researcher, Shriya Srinivasan.
Capsule-based technology treatments have been a hot category in recent years, as researchers explore ingestible sensors and even micro-robotic systems.