Researchers awarded £1.2 million to trial a new weight loss treatment

Researchers at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have been awarded £1.2 million to trial a new minimally invasive weight loss treatment in patients. 

Obesity is a common problem in the UK and it is estimated that one in four adults are living with obesity. 

Some of the current treatments for people with obesity include dietary advice, drugs and weight loss surgery known as gastric bypass surgery. The surgery can be very effective in keeping excess weight off and in improving blood sugar levels in diabetics but some patients decide against this option because it can cause complications such as abdominal pain, chronic nausea, vomiting and debilitating low blood sugar levels. Weight loss dietary programmes can also be ineffective for some patients. 

Researchers at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London will assess whether a procedure called left gastric artery embolisation (LGAE) is more effective in reducing weight compared to receiving diet and exercise advice. 

LGAE is a minimally invasive treatment most commonly used to treat bleeding in the stomach or intestines by reducing blood supply to a specific area at the top of the stomach. Using an x-ray to see inside the stomach, embolisation particles (large molecules that are soluble in water) are then injected through a catheter to the top part of the stomach to block the blood flow. The procedure takes under an hour. 

This treatment reduces the production of the hormone called ghrelin, which controls appetite. Early evidence in animals suggests this treatment could be used for obesity. Previous research has shown patients having stomach embolisation for bleeding stomach ulcers in the top of the stomach lost more weight than patients having embolisation to other organs or other areas of the stomach. 

Clinical senior lecturer in bariatric surgery at Imperial College London and consultant bariatric surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Ahmed R Ahmed, who leads this work said: 

“Obesity is a major health issue that has a high cost for patients and wider society as it’s associated with a range of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. There are currently a range of treatments such as dietary programmes, drugs and surgery. However, for some patients these treatments can be ineffective, carry side effects and they can also be very expensive.  

“There is a real need to develop new treatments which are clinically effective, less invasive, more appealing to prospective patients and cost effective to the NHS. 

“Our research could help address this unmet clinical need, as preliminary research suggests LGAE has potential as a minimally invasive treatment for weight loss. The new funding will help us assess for the first time how effective this treatment is for our patients.” 

Dr Prashant Patel, clinical research fellow at Imperial College London, added: 

“There is a real need to expand the weight loss treatments currently on offer for patients, especially those who don’t want to go down a surgical route.  LGAE has been shown to be a promising minimally invasive treatment but there’s not yet been enough research for us to say how effective it might be.  Our research will help us to answer this question and see if it could be a viable treatment for people living with obesity.” 

The team will recruit 76 patients, who have a BMI between 35 and 50, to a one-year study, which begins in December. Thirty-eight patients will have the LGAE procedure and 38 patients a placebo procedure at St. Mary’s Hospital or UCL Hospitals NHS Trust. The patients will then be followed up to see the impact of their treatment on weight loss and compare the two groups. They will also attend appointments with a specialist dietician and obesity medicine physician as part of the hospital’s routine post-surgical lifetime programme. 

The research is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme. 

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