WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A treatment for varicose veins helped cut the appetites of healthy, growing pigs and might offer a less radical alternative to weight-loss surgery for obese people, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.
They injected a chemical into blood vessels supplying a very specific part of the stomach to cut off production of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
It made the pigs eat less, and tests showed their bodies were producing as much as 60 percent less ghrelin, they reported in the journal Radiology.
"With gastric artery chemical embolization, called GACE, there's no major surgery," Dr. Aravind Arepally of the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, who led the study, said in a statement.
"In our study in pigs, this procedure produced an effect similar to bariatric surgery by suppressing ghrelin levels and subsequently lowering appetite."
Bariatric surgery involves cutting off part of the stomach and sometimes small intestine so that people eat less and so their bodies have less time to digest food. About 205,000 people in the United States had bariatric surgery last year.
Arepally said he used a chemical called sodium morrhuate to kill tissue in specific blood vessels leading to the fundus, at the top of the stomach.
"The chemical doesn't really destroy the blood vessels but it destroys the very specific area of tissue that produces the hormones," Arepally said in a telephone interview.
Tests in 10 pigs showed they ate less and their bodies produced less ghrelin.
Arepally said he was talking to pharmaceutical companies to design a better way to try this approach in people.
"Ghrelin is one of these primordial hormones," he said.
"It is a survival hormone. It is very powerful. It is pretty much universal in all animals."
Many studies have shown, however, that treating obese animals is far easier than treating obesity in humans. People eat even when they are not hungry and for other, complex reasons.
"Appetite is complicated because it involves both the mind and body. Ghrelin fluctuates throughout the day, responding to all kinds of emotional and physiological scenarios," Arepally said. "Certain stresses can cause ghrelin to bump up. Some people, when they try to lose weight, the ghrelin starts to go up -- the ghrelin fights the diet."
Perhaps the minimally invasive surgery -- the chemical is delivered using a thin tube threaded through the arteries -- could complement or substitute for bariatric surgery, Arepally said.
The chemical and the procedure are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, he said.
"One of the things I want to do -- I want to put this chemical in a better format," Arepally said. "We just injected this chemical into the blood vessels."
Arepally notes the irony of working with pigs. "We used pigs because the circulatory system and anatomy is very similar (to humans)," he said.
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