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Moveable Magnets Used to Do Minimally Invasive Gastric Bypass Surgery

Minimally invasive approach might have applications for weight-loss procedures, cancer care in humans….

In a scenario reminiscent of a science fiction movie, researchers have found a way to perform nearly surgery-free gastric bypass procedures using only a local anesthetic. The procedure, done with moveable magnets, is completed in less than a half-hour, the researchers said, and reroutes the digestive tract without leaving behind any foreign material. 

Although the surgery was done on pigs and it may not seem to be “the best model for looking at the resolution of obesity and diabetes,” swine who were treated with the new system gained less weight than did the controls, said the study’s senior author, Dr. Christopher Thompson.

Thompson, an assistant professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is presenting his findings at the Digestive Disease Week meeting of gastroenterologists in San Diego. Gastric or intestinal bypass surgery is effective treatment against obesity, diabetes and even some cancers, and involves rerouting different parts of the intestine so that certain areas of the digestive tract are no longer needed.

The procedure typically involves invasive surgery, with all its attendant complications and risks.

However, the procedure used in this study is called SAMSEN (for Self-Assembling Magnets for Endoscopy). Here, researchers inserted two magnets via a catheter into the foregut and the hindgut of five pigs. Once inside the intestine, the magnets were manipulated to find each other and “mate” — squeezing on the unneeded tissue until it died and shriveled away.

Within a few days this method worked to create a surgical bypass (formally called an anastomosis) that connected two previously separate parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Three months after the procedures, these bypasses were still large and open. The procedure, if validated in other animal models and in humans, might someday aid in the fight against obesity, diabetes and even some forms of cancer, the authors stated.

Similar procedures have been tried before but they involved just one magnet, meaning that only small bypasses could be performed. This new system would allow for larger bypasses.

A second study, also being presented at Digestive Disease Week, showed that a tiny endoscope nicknamed the “mermaid” that is propelled by a magnet and a fin could safely travel the entire human digestive tract and provide accurate images of the stomach as well as the small and large intestines. Currently, capsule endoscopies rely on the digestive tract’s natural movements to move it through the system. Not only does this process take time, but doctors also cannot control the direction of the camera.

The human volunteer in this study was the study’s senior author, 69-year-old Naotake Ohtsuka, president of Mu Ltd., which developed the device. He is also professor emeritus at Ryukoku University in Seta, Japan.

“The device moved safely by itself without injuring our volunteer subject and it took more images than the conventional capsule endoscope,” said Ohtsuka. “We conclude that the mermaid will be applied in the clinical diagnosis of the whole digestive tract in the future.”

The Lancet Neurology, May 2012