A small study shows that a non-surgical procedure designed to block blood flow to a certain part of the stomach could help obese patients lose weight, though the results are still preliminary.

Why it matters:

Surgical weight-loss options like gastric bypass and lap-band surgery can be quite invasive, costly, and can come with a lengthy recovery time. A minimally invasive procedure could open the door for more patients to lose weight and boost their overall health.

The nitty gritty:

The procedure, called bariatric arterial embolization, starts by feeding a small catheter through a patient’s arteries, via an incision in either the groin or the wrist, to an area at the top of the stomach called the fundus, where the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin is produced. Tiny beads are injected through the catheter to decrease blood flow to the fundus.

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In a pilot study of seven patients, the procedure appeared to work. After six months, the patients had lost an average of 13.3 percent of their excess body weight, which the researchers defined as the number of pounds above their ideal weight. There weren’t any significant adverse events reported in any of the patients.

“As our efficacy increases, we may one day replace bariatric surgery for patients who are on the early end of morbid obesity,” said lead researcher Dr. Clifford Weiss, an interventional radiologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Bariatric Embolism Handout
Before: A doctor guides the catheter to the stomach and delivers embolic spheres to block blood flow to arteries (black lines in scan) that feed the fundus. After: Once blocked, arteries are no longer able to supply blood to the fundus, resulting in lower levels of ghrelin. Clifford R. Weiss, MD and Edwin Choi

But keep in mind:

This is simply a pilot trial, only tested in a handful of patients who had a BMI over 40, but weighed less than 400 pounds and were otherwise relatively healthy. Because patients with conditions like diabetes were excluded from the preliminary study, it’s not clear how other health factors might affect how well the procedure works.

What they’re saying:

Dr. Matthew Kroh, the director of surgical endoscopy at the Cleveland Clinic, said that while bariatric arterial embolization is outside the lines of traditional interventions, there’s a need for that.

“We have well-established therapies that range from exercise and diet control to surgical intervention. But there’s a tremendous number of patients that don’t get the therapy they need,” he said.

Kroh emphasized that it’s a small group of patients and the trial is still early, but said it warrants further investigation.

Next steps:

The researchers will run more extensive trials on a larger group of patients to get a better grasp of how effective the procedure will be in the long run, and how it stacks up compared to a placebo.

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