Scientists to implant brain device in people to stop them binge-eating

Scientists to implant brain device in people to stop them binge-eating

13/08/2019

Could a brain chip prevent binge-eating? Scientists launch trial to implant device in 6 obese people that ‘zaps’ them in their moment of weakness

  • The responsive neurostimulation system (RNS) was first developed to treat epilepsy
  • But Dr Casey Halpern of Stanford University found it could be used to target the brain region that controls our urge for food and sex
  • He showed that it drove mice to binge-eat 60% less fatty foods
  • Now he is recruiting 6 obese people to try the implant 

Scientists have devised a brain implant that they hope could switch off the urge to over-eat. 

And they want to test it on obese people struggling to curb that compulsion.

The team at Stanford University has demonstrated that obese, binge-eating mice ate 60 percent less fatty food after being implanted with the responsive neurostimulation system (RNS) – which was first developed to treat epilepsy.

The device targets the nucleus accumbens brain region, which controls the survivalist urges for food and sex.

Lead author Casey Halpern, MD, is quite confident that this technique holds huge potential for controlling humans’ worst instincts – be it a danger to ourselves (binge-eating) or to other (sexual predation). 

And finally, after years of work on rodents, he hopes to deliver an answer. 

The team at Stanford University has shown that binge-eating mice ate 60% less fatty food after receiving the responsive neurostimulation system. Now they hope to try it on humans

The team is recruiting six people who have run out of options. 

They need to have undergone gastric bypass surgery and either did not lose weight or put the weight back on, despite the invasive treatment to restrict the size of their stomachs and other treatments, such as therapy. 

And they need to be willing to try the implant for 18 months, being tracked by Dr Halpern and NeuroPace, the company that first invented the device for epilepsy, and is now keenly involved in chasing its further potential.  

‘These are patients who are essentially dying of their obesity,’ Dr Halpern told Medium’s health outlet Elemental. 

The issue, Dr Halpern says, is that available treatments for obesity don’t address the neural basis of compulsive overeating. 

In his tests, he has shown how a sophisticated type of brain stimulation may break through that barrier. 

Mice experienced a certain type of brain signal to the nucleus accumbens shortly before entering a binge, and that signal seemed to overwhelm them.

One zap to that region, timed immediately after that brain signal, prevented them from acting on that desire. 

The device works with deep-brain stimulation, a standard and FDA-approved type of treatment. 

However, while there are DBS devices on the market to treat Parkinson’s, they work on a pre-programmed basis, meaning it sends regular zaps at specific times to treat tremors.

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