Clinical trials have started on six morbidly obese people who have volunteered to test out a new brain chip that zaps their brain when they think about overeating.
The chip, known as a responsive neurostimulation system (RNS), was developed by medical technology company NeuroPace. It was intended to help to treat people who suffer with epilepsy. Once implanted in the brain, it tracks brain activity, monitoring the way it works constantly.
The chip then gives the user a mild electric shock when it detects a certain pattern that occurs prior to the onset of a seizure.
This is then said to stop the seizure before it begins.
A recent study, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that the same technique could be used to stop binge-eating patterns. In tests done on mice, it showed that there was potential to stop habitual or uncontrolled behaviour.
Stanford University scientists are now looking to find out if it could work on humans who have what is known as ‘loss-of-control eating’.
The trial, which is set to take place over the next five years, will see the six test subjects have the chip implanted in their brain for about 18 months at a time.
The chip will monitor brain activity for six months, then turn on the stimulation – in this case, food. It will then try to look for the pattern of activity in the brain that signals the starts of a food binge.
Researchers will try to determine if the implant is feasible and safe, and then try to ascertain how effective it is.
Although developers are keen to point out that this is not a procedure that will be used for people wanting to lose a small amount of weight.
Only those with a body mass index (BMI) of over 45 and who haven’t lost weight from gastric bypass surgery or cognitive behavioural therapy will be eligible.
Stanford’s Dr Casey Halpern told Medium’s health outlet Elemental: “These are patients who are essentially dying of their obesity.”
Other trials have attempted to use a similar approach called deep brain stimulation (DBS) to try and treat obesity.
The previous tests mainly looked at the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. It is said to control the hormone levels that determine feelings of hunger, satiety and metabolism.