Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a swallowable self-inflating capsule, which enlarges within the stomach under the influence of a hand-held magnet. By filling a portion of the stomach, the balloon induces a sense of fullness, helping obese patients to reduce the amount they eat. The capsule is conceived as a non-invasive alternative to current intragastric balloons used in treating obesity, which are delivered under sedation using an endoscope.
Intragastric balloons are a well-established treatment for obesity in patients who struggle to control their eating. However, the balloon must be inserted into the stomach through endoscopy, meaning that the patient is sedated, before being inflated through a tube. This invasive procedure is then repeated in reverse six months later when the balloon is removed.
The typical procedure is not suitable for all patients, and sometimes the balloon can lead to patients experiencing side-effects such as vomiting and nausea. In fact, 20% of patients require early balloon removal as they cannot tolerate these side-effects. Over the 6-month balloon placement, the stomach may become accustomed to the balloon, meaning that it is less effective in reducing overeating.
To address these issues, the Nanyang research team developed a non-invasive alternative, which they have called the EndoPil. Covered with a hard outer gelatin coating, the capsule measures approximately three centimeters by one centimeter. It contains a magnetically activated inflation valve, along with salt and acid stored in separate compartments.
When the capsule is swallowed, the stomach acid breaks through the outer coating. An external magnet held to the stomach can break the magnetic inflation valve, allowing the salt and acid to mix, resulting in the formation of carbon dioxide which slowly inflates the balloon to a maximum volume of 120 mL. After a one month period, the device can be deflated and it passes through the intestine before being expelled by the body. As it is relatively easy to place another balloon in the stomach, another short treatment cycle can begin soon after if desired.
EndoPil avoids the need for endoscopy. Because it can be inflated slowly without tubes, the device could help to reduce side-effects. The shorter treatment cycles could also help to avoid the stomach becoming accustomed to the balloon, meaning that the treatment could be more effective.
However, the new balloons need to be tested further to determine how useful they are for obese patients. The researchers are currently planning a clinical trial to see if the capsule can be successfully deflated in the stomach and expelled by the body.