The compound was tested in rodents and provides a temporary coating on the intestine before eating, but more research is needed before it’s known whether the drug is safe and effective in humans.
Instead of invasive surgery to treat obesity and type 2 diabetes, humans may one day be able to simply take a pill.
That’s what a preliminary study published in June 2018 in the journal Nature Materialssuggested, and although the pill has been tested only in rats, the authors are hopeful the medication could be on the market for human use within five years. The compound — which the researchers have dubbed “LuCI,” short for “luminal coating of the intestine”— is designed to be taken orally before a meal. It works by temporarily providing a film over the intestine so only a limited amount of food can be absorbed through the body, potentially aiding weight loss, and helping prevent blood sugar spikes in people with type 2 diabetes.
What Makes LuCI Different From Similar Weight Loss Pills
It’s not the first time scientists have attempted to create “weight loss surgery in a pill.” More than a decade ago, a pill formerly known as Zetacap, which is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was referred to as the “gastric bypass pill,” ABC News reported, but LuCI stands out because it contains sucralfate, a medication approved by the FDA decades ago to treat ulcers.
Additionally, the surgeons and materials scientists working on LuCI took on a less-common approach to create the pill than has been attempted in previous research, says study author Ali Tavakkoli, MD, bariatric surgeon and codirector of the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“Our approach is different because we’re targeting the GI tract specifically with a compound that has no systemic absorption and no effects on the liver, brain, pancreas, or other organs involved in glucose or appetite control,” says Dr. Tavakkoli. “It just works locally on the gut,” he added.
The researchers specifically studied how the pill helps control blood sugar levels, but also noted it could help with weight loss in a similar manner to gastric bypass surgery. The surgery alters a patient’s digestive process and how the body absorbs nutrients, and the pill is believed to act in the same way.
Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, especially for those with body fat concentrated in their stomach (called visceral fat), as opposed to other regions of the body, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Excess fat in this region of the body can lead to chronic inflammation, which may in turn contribute to insulin resistance — the hallmark of type 2 diabetes, the NIDDK notes.
But losing just 5 to 7 percent of your body weight can help stabilize blood sugar levels and help prevent prediabetes from progressing into full-blown type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, separate research published in December 2017 in the journal The Lancet suggested following a strict, low-calorie diet, which can result in weight loss, may help reverse the full-blown form of the disease.
When researchers administered LuCI to the normal-weight rodents, their response to glucose was lowered by 47 percent within an hour. And a couple of hours later, the effect disappeared. Controlling glucose, or blood sugar levels, is important for cell function and to keep the organs healthy.