The consumption of high-calorie fatty foods and sugary drinks, accompanied by a sedentary lifestyle contributes to excess weight gain in children and adults. These unhealthy behaviors could lead to becoming overweight or obese, putting individuals at risk for detrimental health outcomes. Dieters, especially those who are obese, could possibly do so without having to go under a knife. A computer chip implanted in the arm may help dieters control their blood-fat levels and stop hunger, according to a recent study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, with more than two-thirds of the population over the age of 20 is either overweight or obese. Obesity and excess weight gain occur when there is a lack of energy balance — energy IN equals energy OUT — in the individual’s body. Energy IN accounts for the amount of energy or calories an individual gets from food and drinks, while energy OUT is the total amount of energy the body uses for breathing, digesting, and being physically active, among other things. Maintaining a healthy weight means that there has to be a balance of energy IN and energy OUT over time.

Obesity can be measured by calculating the body mass index (BMI), which estimates a person's body fat and therefore, their risk for developing obesity-related diseases. A BMI of 30 or greater classifies a person as obese, and increases their likelihood of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Weight loss surgery has become a popular method for battling obesity, as it alters the way the body handles the food that someone eats overtime. Surgery typically reduces the size of the stomach, allowing a patient to become fuller more quickly, and forcing them to eat less, according to Medline Plus. However, a new weight-loss aid may help dieters stay in shape and curb their appetite without the risk of going under the knife.

A team of researchers at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, developed a genetic regulatory circuit from human genes to monitor blood-fat levels and sate hunger. The researchers view this closed-loop synthetic gene circuit as an early warning system, and as treatment to fight excessive weight gain in unhealthy individuals without the need to resort to under the knife surgery.

Different genes that produce particular proteins and reactions were used to construct the implantable chip. The chip was placed in human cells, which were then inserted into tiny capsules in obese mice. For the study, the researchers combined the lipid-sensing receptor (LSR) to the clinically licensed anorectic peptide hormone pramlintide, as a means to stabilize blood-fat levels and suppress hunger. The obese mice were fed fatty food and were then implanted with the computer chip to test the effects of the weight loss aid.

The findings showed that the obese mice stopping eating and that their body weight significantly dropped as a result of the implanted chip. Once the obese mice were full, their blood-fat levels returned to normal, and the regulatory circuit stopped producing the satiety signal. The mice in the study ate less because the chip signaled a feeling of fullness to them. However, the mice that received normal animal feed with a five percent fat content did not lose any weight or reduce their intake of the food, wrote the researchers.

“Instead of placing the mice on a diet to achieve weight loss, we kept giving the animals as much high-calorie food as they could eat,” said ETH-Zurich professor Martin Fussenegger, from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel, in a news release.

This device provides the advantage of not just regulating one sort of fat but saturated and unsaturated animal and vegetable fats that are ingested with food at once. The researchers advocate for the development of a similar product for human use but believe it will take many years to develop. If effective, the computer chip could be a safer alternative to diet pills and weight loss surgeries such as liposuction or gastric bands with little to no adverse effects.

"Instead of intervening in the progression of a disease that is difficult to regulate, it has a preventive effect and exploits the natural human satiety mechanism,” said the researchers.

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Source: Charpin-El-Hamri G, Fussenegger F and Rossger K. A closed-loop synthetic gene circuit for the treatment of diet-induced obesity in mice. Nature Communications. 2013.