Medical entrepreneurs are developing promising devices and procedures that attack weight loss or the diseases most associated with obesity.
These products are stomach fillers and stomach shrinkers, or better ways to treat diabetes. Many of the products are reversible or don't require major surgery.
And they may be the best hope for anyone looking to fast-track their weight-loss goals or battle the effects of obesity. Major surgeries bring high costs and risks of infection. And it's become harder and harder for anti-obesity drugs to clear the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
These cutting-edge products, if approved and are successful in medical trials, could be on the market in the next several years.
Here are a few things in the medical innovation pipeline.
Obesity and diabetes often go hand in hand. The holy grail for diabetes companies is the artificial pancreas, which would automatically monitor blood sugar and deliver insulin when needed. Major companies including Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson continue to pursue pieces and parts of the technology along with other promising startup companies.
But there are other alternatives, too.
A diabetes drug company called Lumena is developing a diabetes pill that would offer diabetics some of the benefits of gastric bypass surgery without going through the process. And rather than introducing a chemical into the body like other drugs, the pill would stimulate the body to produce a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar, making it safer than other treatments.
Another new method for treating diabetes is with insulin analogs, which are proteins engineered to act like insulin in the body. They are heat-resistant and can be made to act more slowly or quickly than insulin in the body, depending on the diabetic's needs.
Several companies are working on ways to make day-to-day living with diabetes easier with devices like needle-less glucose monitors, which uses a small laser and camera to analyze light scattered by the skin to measure glucose in the tissue.
Ford and Medtronic are taking innovation beyond the home and into the car, developing a bluetooth-compatible continuous glucose monitoring device that alerts drivers via in-car audio and displays when their glucose levels are too low.
Several weight-loss devices being developed aim to delay digestion, making patients feel fuller longer after eating and reducing hunger. The EndoBarrier, for one, is a flexible tube that's inserted into the small intestine via endoscopy to form a barrier between food and the walls of the intestine. It's intended to delay digestion and change the hormone signals that cue hunger and the body's use of energy. Already approved in Europe and Australia, the device will begin clinical trials in the U.S. next year. (See how it works here.)
The SatisSphere is a device that can be placed in the small intestine in about 15 minutes and conforms to the shape of the duodenum, eliminating the need for any kind of securing mechanism. It slows food's journey through the intestine and fools the body into thinking that more has been eaten than actually has.
A similar device is a set of small, flexible pieces that create a sleeve in the stomach to slow the passage of food. Called the TOGA system, it's designed to mimic traditional obesity surgery without incisions. (See how it works here.)
One stimulation device uses a set of leads implanted laparoscopically to deliver energy to nerves that regulate the activity of the stomach and pancreas. The Maestro system, designed to be personalized and reversible, preserves the anatomy of the digestive system. EnteroMedics, the device maker, is currently testing its system in patients, although past results haven't been promising.
IntraPace is developing what is essentially a pacemaker for the stomach. Its abiliti system is an implantable device that stimulates the stomach when food or drink is detected, enhancing feelings of fullness so the patient eats less. (See how it works here.)
The removable and non-surgical Trans-oral Endoscopic Restrictive Implant System (TERIS), currently in experimental stages, is a soft, silicone device placed in the stomach to induce a feeling of fullness with a small meal. (See how it works here.)
Another non-drug, non-surgical option under development is the ReShape Duo, essentially a set of balloons inserted to occupy space in the stomach. It is removed after six months by a slender tube inserted via a tiny incision in the body. (See how it works here.)
EndoRetics' unnamed device shrinks the size of the opening to the upper stomach to restrict food intake. It is inserted into the upper stomach through endoscopy, and then a vacuum is used to pull stomach tissue into the device, and a clamp is released to hold it in place.
For those who don't want to wait for any of these devices to hit the market, gastric plication might be something to consider. It's a new experimental surgery that's cheaper and safer than traditional weight-loss surgeries and therefore can be a solution for those who are less overweight than candidates for gastric bypass surgery. Surgeons sew folds, which can later be undone, into the stomach through five or six small holes in the abdomen, shrinking the size of the stomach by about 70 percent. (See how it works here.)