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Implant, Belt May Help Fight Obesity

There may be new hope for people struggling with obesity.

It's called "VBLOC therapy," which seeks to stop the impulse to overeat by blocking the vagal nerves. Those nerves communicate feelings of hunger and fullness from the brain to the stomach.

With the new approach, doctors insert a VBLOC device just beneath the skin. It's a receiver. Electrodes are hooked up to the vagal nerves. And the patient wears a belt that transmits electronic impulses to confuse or block the nerves' signals. The desired result -- pangs of hunger are reduced, and patients eat less.

A nationwide trial of VBLOC therapy is under way.

The treatment is considered less invasive than bariatric surgeries, which usually involve shrinking the stomach by wrapping a tight band around it -- a so-called lapband -- or bypassing large sections of the stomach altogether and going directly to the rest of the digestive tract -- commonly referred to as gastic bypass surgery.

On The Early Show Friday, Dr. Scott Shikora, chief of bariatric surgery at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and one of the current study's principal investigators, showed a VBLOC device, explained how it works, and outlined the new therapy's possible benefits.

And Jeff Collins, who had the device implanted in Los Angeles in December, said he's lost 20 pounds and now weighs 285. "I would recommend it to anybody who's (trying) to lose weight."

"The risk with the other two gastic bypass procedures right now is too high, especially with people my age," Collins said.

"With gastic bypass," Shikora pointed out to CBS News, "we're dividing the stomach and bowel, and it's fraught with potential risks, such as infection. With the VBLOC, we're not dividing the stomach, we're simply attaching electrodes to two very prominant nerves."

But, he cauutioned, "Remember: This is research. We don't know yet how this device will perform, how consistent it will be long-term. It could prove to be a better alternative for some. Also, gastric bypass has a 40-year track record. We know it works."

Shikora says it takes 45 minutes to an hour to implant the device and patients can often go home the same day.

He added that no one knows yet how quickly patients will lose weight with VBLOC: "It might turn out to be a much slower way to lose weight than gastic bypass. But, more importantly, weight loss has to consistent and effective; it doesn't have to be rapid. The key is achieving meaningful weight loss."



CLINICAL TRIAL PARTICIPATION

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "Stanford University is one of 13 sites around the country participating in the study, being funded by medical device company EnteroMedics. Researchers hope to sign up 250 to 300 volunteers, about 50 of them in the Bay Area, and study them for five years.

Stanford is looking for up to 50 patients to participate in the five-year trial. Participants must have a body mass index of 40 to 45, or of at least 35 for people suffering from an obesity-related condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or sleep apnea. Participants must have completed at least six months of a supervised weight-loss program and either failed to lose weight or could not keep it off.

To apply for the trial, fill out a registration form at links.sfgate.com/ZDAY, or call (866) 291-9146.