Abiliti is a gastric pacemaker, the latest hi-tech device in the battle of obesity, which works as a stomach implant that tricks the brain into feeling full.
According to experts, the gastric pacemaker can train obese people to eat normal-sized meals without the need for surgery that drastically changes the size of their stomach.
The device, which is a credit card sized implant, detects when food has been eaten and sends signals to the brain to create the impression of fullness, regardless of the portion’s size.
Experts hope that the Abiliti gastric pacemaker, which is implanted via keyhole surgery, will provide a popular alternative to radical procedures such as a gastric bypass, in which the stomach is made smaller and the digestive tract replumbed.
Initially, operations will be carried out on the obese – people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above.
However, scientists who have trialled the $15,000 device, which is already available at selected private hospitals, say it may one day be offered to those who are merely overweight to stop them from becoming fatter.
The Abiliti, which is made by U.S. firm IntraPace, is attached to a lead, a food sensor and an electrode.
When someone with the implant eats, its sensor is tripped and sends a signal to the device, which then sends a series of gentle electrical pulses to the electrode.
This excites the nearby vagus nerve, and triggers hormonal changes that trick the brain into thinking that the stomach is full.
In European trials, people fitted with the gastric pacemaker ate 45% less at each meal.
One German recipient has gone from 287 lbs (140 kg) to just over 168 lbs (83 kg), and has even started competing in triathlons.
A 53-year-old mother-of-three from England, who is due to be fitted with an Abiliti this week described it as her last chance of losing weight.
The woman said: “I’ve been big ever since I was a child.
“I’ve tried everything, including exercise, dieting and drugs, but nothing works.
“I’d give anything to have a normal shape.”
Dr. James Byrne, who will perform her operation at the private Spire Southampton Hospital, said the gastric pacemaker has several benefits over other weight-loss techniques, including the gastric bypass and the similar gastric band, popularised by celebrities.
“These procedures do work, but they are quite drastic as we have to remodel the gut,” he said.
“The Abiliti is a simple implant that can be reversed if necessary, so it is much less aggressive.”
The gastric pacemaker can be programmed to switch off at mealtimes and on between them, to combat snacking.
While the Abiliti gastric pacemaker can’t count calories, it can provide doctors with a picture of portion size and the number of nibbles eaten, allowing them to provide diet and life- style advice tailored to individual patients’ habits.