A woman who struggled to lose weight her whole life lost 35 pounds and has kept it off since having a brain implant
- A woman stopped overeating and lost 35 pounds after receiving a brain implant in a study, she said.
- Study author Dr. Casey Halpern said the results were "really impressive and exciting."
A woman who struggled with binge eating for years has lost 35 pounds after receiving a brain implant as part of a pilot study.
Government analyst Robyn Baldwin, 58, from Citrus Heights, California, used to binge eat several times a week, she told Today.
"I love ice cream to the point where I would eat it until I got sick," Baldwin said. "I'm a big binge-eater of pasta. If we make a big bowl of spaghetti, I can just sit there and binge on it in the pot right there."
In 2003, Baldwin had gastric bypass surgery, which saw her weight drop from 332 to 202 pounds. She kept it off for seven years but then regained the weight after her husband developed a brain tumor and she became his caregiver.
Weight-loss surgery doen't necessarily remove people's "undying urges to overeat," which can be caused by having "dysfunction of the circuits in the brain involved in self-control," study author Dr. Casey Halpern told Today.
The implant sends an electric signal to disrupt cravings
Both women had a deep brain stimulation device implanted in the region of their brain that controls reward circuits. Similar devices are already used to help people control Parkinson's disease tremors and epilepsy seizures, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
The surgery took place in June 2020, and Baldwin was asked to look at pictures of her favorite foods, from Taco Bell to peanut butter M&Ms, so researchers could see how her brain responded. They saw a difference in how the cells responded when Baldwin looked at foods she found appetizing versus those she didn't.
The device was designed to detect craving signals in the brain and then intercept them by sending an electric signal to help the person resist the urge to overeat.
"Binge eating disorder and obesity commonly coexist, likely more often than we realize," Halpern told Insider. "Directly targeting food cravings with a novel form of neurostimulation can significantly improve the urge to overeat."
Halpern said in a press release accompanying the study when it was published earlier this year: "This was an early feasibility study in which we were primarily assessing safety, but certainly the robust clinical benefits these patients reported to us are really impressive and exciting."
The device wasn't turned on straight away and researchers didn't tell the women when they would be activated, but Baldwin said she noticed an immediate difference — she no longer had cravings and stopped overeating.
Baldwin can feel the device if she touches her skull, but doesn't feel the electric stimulation, she said.
Baldwin has lost 35 pounds since having the device, and the other participant has lost weight too. Both said they want to keep the devices, according to Halpern.
Much more research is needed due to the very small sample size, so Halpern and his colleagues are looking for obese people, who have previously undergone weight-loss surgery and struggle with food, to take part in a clinical trial.
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