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Gastric Pacemaker May Offer Alternative to Gastric Bypass


Obesity is an epidemic in the United States and in other developed countries. More than half of Americans are considered overweight, and about a third are obese. Researchers continue to search for drugs and devices to help support the behavioral changes needed for weight loss. A new device, called a gastric pacemaker, has recently completed clinical trials and is now available in some European countries.

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The gastric pacemaker is an implant intended to be a less drastic alternative to gastric bypass surgery. It is placed within the abdominal cavity, but outside of the stomach, through minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery. Two leads connect the pacemaker to the stomach. The device senses when a person is eating and generates a premature sensation of fullness by stimulating the vagus nerve.

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The device is also equipped with an accelerometer. Data about exercise can be uploaded to a computer wirelessly.

The implant, developed by the California company Intrapace, is available in Germany, Spain and the UK under the brand name Abiliti. So far, about 65 patients have had the device implanted in clinical trials. The unpublished data from the trials shows that the average weight loss is about 22% after one year.

The most serious side effect seen with the gastric pacemaker has been infection linked to the surgery to implant the device. Experts are also concerned with long-term complications, including habituation in which the nerve adapts to the stimulus and essentially learns to ignore it. Another downside is the cost. Abiliti costs about $24,000 for the device and the surgery.

Intrapace hopes to submit the device for approval in the United States in 2014 after more clinical trials have been conducted.