Current weight-loss surgery techniques are drastic organ-remodeling affairs where a doctor reduces the patient’s stomach to a small pouch. But now, doctors may have accidentally discovered a new way to cinch the appetite with a much less invasive surgical approach.
Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital ran across some interesting data when they were checking up on patients that had undergone a procedure called a transarterial embolization. This a relatively simple procedure where a surgeon uses a catheter to insert a tiny plug -- a small bead, or a gel foam that hardens later -- into an artery. The obstruction cuts off blood flow, which can be useful for a range of conditions, from cutting off the blood supply to a tumor to starve it to stopping persistent bleeding from ulcers or other gastrointestinal issues.
The team, led by MGH physician and Harvard University professor Rahmi Oklu, saw that 14 of their patients that had undergone gastric embolizations had lost an average of almost 8 percent of their body weight within the first three months after the procedure. The 14 patients all had the procedure done on a the left gastric artery, which delivers blood to a certain part of the stomach that makes the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin.
"Ghrelin is the only hormone known to stimulate the appetite, so it is an intriguing potential target for combating obesity," Oklu said in a statement. "Animal studies have shown that when this artery is blocked, blood levels of ghrelin decrease and weight loss occurs."
The left gastric artery does seem to be the key. Oklu and colleagues looked at 18 other patients that had transarterial embolization performed on a different gastric artery and found their weight loss three months after the procedure was much less steep, at an average of 1.2 percent.
"Embolizing the left gastric artery may be a potential bariatric treatment for weight loss and an alternative to other invasive procedures," Oklu said. "This is an important data point in the development of a new clinical tool for the treatment of obesity."
Oklu and colleagues will be presenting their work next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
A more minimal kind of weight-loss surgery could be a great stride forward in combating obesity. The procedure is likely less risky than current bariatric surgery methods, which can be complicated by infections and leaks. But Oklu and colleagues’ observations are still very preliminary. Doctors will have to study the procedure and its effects on weight loss, as well as any adverse effects, in a much larger group of patients.
Plus, the real test of the procedure’s effectiveness will be whether the weight loss that results is lasting or just a brief slimdown.
“My guess is that any response would be fleeting and gone in a year or two,” Mitchell Roslin, chief of bariatric surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told ABC News.