A pacemaker to help diabetics

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
April 8, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
An experimental device is helping diabetics get a handle on their weight and, in turn, their blood sugar.Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

The obesity epidemic has turned out a crop of overweight and obese people who go on to get Type Two diabetes.

Now, to help these diabetics lose weight and help control their blood sugar levels, there is a pacemaker.

Sharon Jaffee has diabetes in her family. She is overweight and, despite attempts to drop some pounds, she's hit a wall. And her blood sugar tests are very erratic.

"It goes anywhere from 35 in the a.m. before breakfast, all the way to 204, which is the highest I've ever been," she said. "And I want this device to control my sugar better."

The device Sharon's talking about is experimental. It's called the Tantalus. It's the size of a heart pacemaker and the wires from it go to several areas around the patient's stomach.

"The main purpose of this device is to control blood sugar, but you get weight loss as a good effect that goes along with the blood sugar control," said Dr. Louis Aronne, from New York Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Stimulating the stomach makes patients feel full sooner so they eat less. The pacemaker stimulates stomach nerves that cause the pancreas to make more insulin to lower blood sugar. Both effects control diabetes.

The electronics are implanted in the abdomen using a scope and minimally-invasive surgery.

For the study, the procedure is done with an overnight stay in the hospital. In the future, it's simple enough that it could be done as an outpatient procedure.

For patients like Sharon, who may need medications at some point, the Tantalus' ability to reduce weight and stimulate insulin may mean she'll need less medication.

High blood pressure can come down as well. That's what early studies show.

"Preliminary studies from Europe have shown that this is effective for a one to two year period of time," Dr. Aronne said. "We believe that it can last even longer than that."

Dr. Aronne is actively looking for several dozen patients to take part in research trials on the diabetes pacemaker.

For more information, go to http://news.med.cornell.edu or www.metacure.com