Stimulating the liver with focused ultrasound has shown extremely promising results for treating obesity in animal models, states a new study published in Scientific Reports. By targeting and stimulating nerves using a non-invasive therapy, the researchers reduced chronic inflammation and metabolic dysfunctions that arise as a result of obesity. With obesity remaining one of the largest health issues of the modern day, the therapy may be a viable alternative to the few (and often invasive) treatments currently available.
“Obesity has been increasing at an alarming rate worldwide, and with it, many dangerous comorbidities including diabetes, heart disease, cognitive decline and even some cancers,” says Victoria Cotero, Senior scientist in the Biosciences Group at GE Research and author of the study, in an email to IFLScience.
"By addressing the core problem behind obesity, we could provide a non-invasive, drug-free treatment for obesity and associated conditions that spares the patient from developing these chronic conditions and significantly improves their overall quality of life."
The research builds on previous evidence that stimulation of the gastrointestinal tract could improve weight loss and treat obesity, although it never made it to clinical relevance. In the latest piece, the researchers turned to the liver, which controls much of the metabolic action in the body through the production of insulin alongside various other regulatory effects.
A total of 60 mice were fed a "Western diet" of high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods – aiming to mimic a diet typically leading to obesity – and then either stimulated with peripheral focused ultrasound or subjected to sham stimulation. They discovered that daily liver stimulation significantly reduced body weight, as well as circulating markers for obesity and inflammation. It also reduced the rate at which mice put on weight and how much they ate.
The results suggest that hepatic stimulation could be a viable option for a non-invasive treatment for obesity. Obesity continues to rise at an "alarming" rate across western countries, with it recently being blamed for overwhelming COVID-19 cases in the UK. With many co-morbidities associated with obesity, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, reducing its prevalence is a huge priority for many nations.
Of course, this is an early study based on mice, so how the results translate to humans remains to be seen. Alongside this, researchers still do not fully understand the mechanism behind hepatic ultrasound stimulation, which should be learned before clinical trials.
In the meantime, non-invasive and effective treatments for existing obesity are sorely needed, and the researchers believe this is a strong contender.
“The peripheral ultrasound stimulation described in our study provides a fundamental technology for the future study and the ability to target the peripheral nervous and neuroendocrine systems. It also suggests a solution to many of the challenges facing traditional invasive approaches.” states Sangeeta Chavan, Professor in the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research.