The Lamen

A vibrating pill promises “gentler” weight-loss

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Experts are looking for alternatives to perpetual Ozempic injections, and a vibrating pill might be just that.

Image: Pexels

Published on Jan 5, 2024

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a vibrating pill, called Vibrating Ingestible BioElectronic Stimulator (VIBES), that aims to offer a “gentler and potentially cheaper” alternative to weight-loss drugs.

In a study published in Science Advances, researchers found that the slashed appetite in pigs and minimized weight gain — without any apparent side effects.


As your stomach expands in response to consumption of food, certain cells called mechanoreceptors sense this stretching — sending a signal to the brain via the vagus nerve.

  • The brain, in response, stimulates the production of hormones insulin and GLP-1 — the latter of which is also the primary ingredient in the current batch of anti-obesity drugs.
  • These hormones work together to create the illusion of fullness and can help with weight loss.

How it works: VIBES, equipped with a small motor and battery, vibrates for about 30 minutes once it reaches the stomach — stimulating mechanoreceptors and tricking the brain into feeling full.

  • The researchers found that 30 minutes after the activation of the VIBES pill, pigs showed a 40 percent reduction in food intake and also gained weight slowly.
  • The pill stayed in the stomach for four to five days and did not show any signs of obstruction or inflammation of the gut lining.

However, this approach may not be reliable in the long term. If the brain finds these stretch signals to be unreliable, it “might start to use other signals to decide how much we eat,” neuroscientist Carlos Campos told MIT Technology Review.

  • To have an appetite-suppressing effect similar to pigs, a person would have to swallow two of these pills each day, psychologist Allan Geliebter told Science. “I don’t see people doing this,” he said.

Why it matters

The cost of weight-loss drugs poses a problem for many of the 100 million American adults who have obesity — nudging researchers to look for alternatives.

  • Without health insurance, Ozempic can cost people upwards of $900 for a single injection — which is often a lifelong treatment required every four weeks.
  • With Medicare not covering weight-loss drugs for now, several adults are unwilling to shell out thousands of dollars every year.

Despite the hype generated by encouraging studies, the new class of weight-loss drugs could also cause a number of side effects, including loss of muscle mass, gastrointestinal issues, and suicidal thoughts.

The researchers now plan to study the pill in dogs, followed by human trials in “2 to 3 years” if their research gets funded. Notably, Wegovy maker Novo Nordisk is one of the backers of the study.