- The new technique "appears to be a safe and effective weight-loss method," Ienca commented in a statement.
- Because the swallowable balloon "does not require endoscopy, surgery or anaesthesia, this may make it suitable for a larger population of obese patients not responding to diet or lifestyle treatment."
- It could also lead to significant cost savings, she added.
Weight-loss balloons swallowed rather than surgically inserted in the stomach were shown to be safe and effective in preliminary trials, according to findings unveiled Thursday at a medical conference.
So-called intragastric balloons have been used for decades to help obese patients shed unwanted kilos. Inflated with water, the devices curb hunger and make it easier to diet by inducing a feeling if fullness.
Up to now, however, they could only be implanted in the stomach surgically, a costly procedure requiring general anaesthesia or sedation.
In a small trial led by Roberta Ienca, a researcher in experimental medicine at Sapienza University in Rome, 42 obese patients — 29 men and 13 women — were fitted with balloons that were swallowed before being inflated with liquid.
"A catheter is attached to the balloon, which is folded into a capsule," Ienca explained to AFP.
A doctor fills the balloon via the tiny tube, which is then removed via the mouth with a tug. "This process takes just a few seconds," she added.
The body-mass index (BMI) of the volunteers varied between 30 and 45. The threshold for obesity is a BMI — one's weight in kilos divided by one's height (in centimetres) squared — of 30.
The balloons remained in the stomach for 16 weeks, during which time patients were put on a low-carb, low-calorie diet.
At the end of that time, an internal release valve automatically opens and drains the balloon, which is then excreted.
On average, volunteers shed more than 15 kilos (33 pounds), which amounted to 31 percent of excess weight.
No serious side effects were reported.