MIT engineers have created a capsule that uses electrical signals to stimulate the stomach’s endocrine cells to produce ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating appetite. The capsule, called FLASH (Fluid-wicking Active Stimulation and Hormone modulation), could prove helpful in treating diseases that involve nausea or appetite loss, such as cachexia. The capsule has a grooved surface that wicks fluid away from the electrodes, which interact with the stomach tissue to produce an electric current, boosting hormone production.

In tests on animals, the researchers found that after 20 minutes of electrical stimulation, ghrelin levels in the bloodstream were significantly elevated. They also found that the electrical stimulation did not lead to any significant inflammation or other adverse effects.

This technology could be useful in treating diseases that involve nausea or loss of appetite, such as cachexia, which is a condition where there is a loss of body mass that can occur in patients with cancer or other chronic diseases. It could also be used to treat eating disorders and metabolic diseases.

The benefit of this technology is that it is a non-invasive method for stimulating ghrelin production in the stomach. Currently, patients with gastroparesis, a disorder of the stomach nerves that leads to very slow movement of food, can receive electrical stimulation generated by a pacemaker-like device that can be surgically implanted in the stomach. However, this treatment is invasive, and the MIT team’s approach could be a less invasive alternative.

In addition, the researchers believe that their approach could be adapted to deliver electrical stimulation to other parts of the gastrointestinal tract, making it a versatile technology for treating various gastrointestinal, neuropsychiatric, and metabolic disorders.

Article written by Anne Trafton



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