A new bariatric surgery technique, developed by an international collaboration featuring Flinders surgeons, is showing promise in the treatment of not only obesity but also Type II diabetes and hypertension.
Unlike traditional bariatric procedures which involve restricting or rerouting food or removing part of the stomach, in this new procedure two electrodes are implanted through keyhole surgery and attached to the vagus nerves at the entrance to the stomach.
A device similar to a pacemaker is then implanted just under the skin which sends electrical pulses to block the vagus nerves, which results in the patient feeling fuller and less hungry.
A Flinders team led by Professor Jim Toouli, Professor of Surgery at Flinders Medical Centre, was second in the world to perform this procedure in 2008 (beaten only by a Mexican team who started earlier because of the time difference).
After successful trials in three centres around the world, the device was found to successfully aid weight loss and specialists also noted it appeared to control type II diabetes and high blood pressure quicker than other forms of bariatric surgery.
Type II diabetes is characterised by high blood glucose levels and is linked to obesity through the accumulation of fat in the liver which can cause insulin resistance.
A second international trial focussed on the implications of the procedure for 30 type II diabetes patients has recently concluded. Flinders was the largest of four trial centres, performing the procedure on 10 patients.
Professor Toouli said the trial has “shown great results” and the procedure could be a significant alternative in the treatment of type II diabetes and high blood pressure if diet and exercise fail to manage the condition.
“Because the procedure is minimally invasive, it could also be used to treat type II diabetes sufferers who are not as obese who would not normally be considering having a major operation.”
However, the researchers are yet to determine why the device is more effective in controlling the conditions than traditional weight loss surgeries.
“We believe blocking the nerves could cause hormonal and neurotransmitter changes which may cause this result,” Professor Toouli said. “It is now the subject of further laboratory research here at Flinders to better understand how that works.”