Science and Tech


How a vibrating pill could be the latest treatment for obesity

The oral capsule developed by engineers at MIT is about the size of a multivitamin and is powered by a small silver oxide battery.
Vibrating Ingestible BioElectronic Stimulator
Posted at 3:47 PM, Jan 02, 2024

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are shaking things up in the world of obesity treatments: They’ve developed an ingestible capsule that vibrates inside the stomach.

The vibrations from the pill, named the Vibrating Ingestible BioElectronic Stimulator (VIBES), create an illusion of being full by activating the same brain receptors your stomach sends signals to when it is stretched, according to the engineers

The oral capsule is about the size of a multivitamin and is powered by a small silver oxide battery. Once it is swallowed and it reaches the stomach, acidic gastric fluids dissolve a gelatinous membrane that covers the capsule, completing the electronic circuit that activates the vibrating motor inside. 

MIT said the current version of the pill is designed to vibrate for about 30 minutes after it reaches the stomach, but the researchers plan to explore the possibility of adapting it to remain in the stomach for longer periods, where it could be turned on and off wirelessly as needed. 

“For somebody who wants to lose weight or control their appetite, it could be taken before each meal,” said Dr. Shriya Srinivasan, an MIT graduate who is now an assistant professor of bioengineering at Harvard University. “This could be really interesting in that it would provide an option that could minimize the side effects that we see with the other pharmacological treatments out there.”

Srinivasan is the lead author of the study on the vibrating capsule, which was published in Science Advances.

In animals who were given the vibrating pill 20 minutes before eating, the researchers found that this treatment not only stimulated the release of hormones that signal the feeling of fullness but also reduced the animals’ food intake by about 40%, according to MIT. 

The capsules passed through the digestive tract of the animals used in the study within four to five days. Researchers noted the animals did not show any signs of obstruction, perforation or other negative impacts while the pill was in their digestive tract. 

While scientists have more to learn and have not tested the impacts in humans, this type of technology could offer a minimally invasive way to treat obesity in comparison to bariatric surgery or weight loss drugs on the market like Zepbound and Wegovy, the researchers said.

New weight-loss drug Zepbound now available in US pharmacies
A picture of a Zepbound injectable.

New weight-loss drug Zepbound now available in US pharmacies

Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly said people with qualifying insurance can get a three-month supply of the drug for as low as $25.