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Hydrogel Obesity Capsule Shown to Protect Gut Tissue

Bathroom scale

(StillWorksImagery, Pixabay)

1 Nov. 2021. Lab tests show an ingestible hydrogel designed to encourage weight loss by acting like raw vegetables helps protect and regulate intestinal tissue. Researchers from the medical materials company Gelesis Inc. in Boston and academic labs in Italy describe the tests and results in today’s issue of the journal Scientific Reports.

Gelesis develops synthetic three-dimensional hydrogels with properties similar to raw vegetables, designed to mimic their beneficial functions in the gastrointestinal system. The company’s technology produces the hydrogels, water-based biocompatible polymers, made with a form of cellulose sodium salts like those used in food thickeners and citric acid found in citrus fruit. The gels are taken as capsules and released in the stomach, where they absorb water, mix with ingested food, and move into the small intestine without being absorbed. Once in the colon, the gels release the absorbed water and are excreted in stools.

Gelesis says the gels simulate raw vegetables in the GI system to help make an individual feel full, but work more efficiently. The company markets the gels as a prescription treatment for weight management under the brand name Plenity. In April 2019, Food and Drug Administration cleared Plenity to help people with a body mass index rated as overweight or obese, and without complicating conditions, such as hypertension or type 2 diabetes. Gelesis is developing similar gels to help control weight in adolescents, and people with type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NAFLD/NASH), and constipation.

Tested with intestinal organ tissue samples

The Scientific Reports paper describes findings of a team from Gelesis, University of Salento in Lecce, and Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan, Italy that lab-tested properties and actions of the company’s hydrogels. The tests evaluated the gels’ ability to absorb water and elasticity in simulated GI systems, in fluids with similar chemical composition and acidic properties. The results show the hydrogel particles, when released from the capsules, absorb about 100 times their weight in water. And when compared to raw vegetables, also tested in the simulated GI system, the gels displayed similar elasticity.

The researchers also tested the hydrogels with intestinal organ tissue samples from mice to find adverse effects, with performance assessed against raw vegetables and dietary fiber supplements such as glucomannan and psyllium. The results show the gels maintained the integrity of intestinal tissue and preserved the protective mucous layer on tissue samples similar to raw vegetables. With fiber supplements, the intestinal samples show less tissue integrity and more mucous degradation, which the researchers attribute to the fiber supplements’ lower elasticity than hydrogels and raw vegetables. The authors point out, however, that the hydrogels are not a substitute for raw vegetables, since vegetables provide needed nutrients.

“Clearly a new superabsorbent material was needed to allow for the administration in a convenient fashion, using only a small number of capsules,” says Alessandro Sannino, University of Salento materials scientist and inventor of the technology in a statement by PureTech Health, Gelesis’s parent company. Sannino, also Gelesis’s lead scientist and co-senior author of the paper adds, “We also wanted to emulate the properties of a large amount of ingested raw vegetables since the goal was to target what we believe is one of the root causes of the obesity pandemic, which is the modern western diet, and how it affects us.”

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