Two groups of rats were compared: those that had the intestinal barrier sleeves implanted and those that had surgery but did not have the barrier sleeves placed. Body composition, glucose tolerance and bile acid levels were assessed before and after the procedure.
The researchers found that the intestinal barrier sleeve significantly reduced body weight and improved the balance between glucose (sugar) and fats. The data also showed that bile acids may have an important role in reducing weight, a potentially important clue to understanding the mechanics of fat metabolism, Habegger said.
Why might the intestinal barrier sleeve work? By placing the sleeve directly below the stomach in the upper part of the small intestine, Habegger said, the food-sensing and satiation triggers that exist in that area may be altered.
Although the findings of the new study are promising, scientists maintain that research involving animals often fails to produce similar results in humans.
Research with humans is in the works: A physician not associated with this study said he will soon be involved as a principal investigator in a related clinical trial, testing the intestinal barrier sleeve in people.
"If [the intestinal barrier sleeve] is really safe, it may change the indication for weight-loss surgeries," said Dr. Edward Phillips, vice chairman of the department of surgery and director of the Weight Loss Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "It would allow more people who now don't qualify for surgery -- because they're not heavy enough -- to get it."
The possibility of improving glucose metabolism -- and the lower cost and risk of the procedure -- would fit the needs of more patients, he said.
The intestinal barrier sleeve procedure could be done for people with Crohn's disease and other illnesses that make them ineligible for gastric bypass surgery, Phillips said. But because the sleeve is made of silicone, those with latex allergies would most likely not be able to have the procedure, he added.
Phillips said the intestinal barrier sleeve procedure would allow patients to avoid hospitalization and not run the risk of perforation of the colon or death from anesthesia or surgery. "This is going to be safer and reversible," he said.
The biggest risk associated with the intestinal barrier sleeve is the chance that it will not stay in place, Phillips said. "But even if it stays in place for just a couple of months, [the sleeve] could be a help, especially for someone who needs to lose weight quickly to have a heart transplant or other surgery," he said.