Two obese binge-eating disorder sufferers were surgically implanted with a gadget as part of a groundbreaking pilot study.
The device was developed to identify and inhibit brain signals associated to binge-eating food cravings, with promising results laying the framework for a future in which implants can control a variety of impulsive behaviors.
The new study was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s (UPenn) Perelman School of Medicine and released on Monday, August 29 in Nature Medicine.
A compact gadget that monitors food craving-related brain activity in a crucial brain region and reacts by electrically stimulating that region showed promise in a pilot clinical trial, according to researchers from UPenn. Two patients with loss-of-control binge eating disorder responded favorably to the trial (BED).
Significant decreases in binge-eating
Over the course of a six-month period of intensive observation of the patients, the researchers reported that the devices looked to be performing as planned with no obvious negative effects. Both patients reported significant reductions in binge-eating episodes’ frequency and feelings of being out of control. Without receiving any special dietary recommendations, each patient lost an additional 11 lb (5 kg) on average over the following six months.
According to New Atlas, senior author Casey Halpern remarked, “This was an early feasibility research in which we were largely examining safety, but clearly the significant clinical advantages these patients reported to us are really impressive and encouraging.”
Halpern underlined that the main goals of this initial pilot study were safety and viability. Therefore, it is too soon to conclude whether or not this kind of brain stimulation technology actually reduces binge eating, but these early findings do show the safety of the device.
In the US, binge eating is highly prevalent.
According to the UPenn researchers, at least a couple million Americans suffer from binge-eating disorder, which is thought to be the most prevalent eating disorder in the country.
It typically involves episodes of binge eating without purging akin to bulimia and is frequently associated with obesity. When someone binges, they overeat because they feel as though they are losing control over their appetite.
Episodes of binge eating disorder might cause cravings for particular favorite meals. Halpern and his colleagues found evidence in a 2018 study that unique low-frequency electrical activity in the nucleus accumbens appears just before these cravings, but not before typical, non-binge eating. The study used mice and people.
The researchers turned on the nucleus accumbens in rats to block this craving-related activity whenever it occurred. They found that the mice took much less of a delicious, high-calorie food than they would have otherwise.
Much work still needs to be done.
Even while this research suggests that brain implants may one day be able to curb impulsive behaviors like binge eating, much more research is necessary until we completely understand how to do so. To improve the technology even more, additional participants will be recruited for this ongoing study.