Deep brain stimulation could change eating behaviors

Published On: Jun 14 2013 08:33:22 AM HST

Four years ago, three Allegheny General Hospital neurosurgeons took a deep brain stimulation procedure, used to treat Parkinson's disease, and applied it to morbidly obese patients who had failed to lose weight.

This week in Berlin, Dr. Michael Oh presented their findings to the International Neuromodulation Society's 11th World Congress.

In western Pennsylvania, one of his partners in the experiment explained.

"There are three of us who have done this research, which is stimulation of the hypothalamus to try to control weight and change metabolism," Dr. Don Whiting said.

The participants had tried exercise, diet, medication and gastric bypass surgery and still remained morbidly obese. They were all at least 100 pounds heavier than their ideal weight.

Dr. Whiting used a plastic model of the brain to show how surgeons cut a small hole in the skull and pass the electrode through the brain tissue so that it almost divides the brain, but does not cut it.

The electrode is controlled by a device that is similar to a pacemaker. The doctors would adjust stimulation to modify the metabolism of the participants.  They lost 30 to 50 pounds.

"The main goal of the study was to prove safety, and there were no problems for four years," Whiting said.

But the metabolism modifications did not hold, and the participants regained all weight they lost.

So Whiting says the experiments will continue, and it will be years before this procedure can be considered a standard option to be considered for weight loss.


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