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New No-Surgery Weight Loss Procedure Shows Promise

Interventional radiologists have recently developed a new weapon against obesity.
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Cheryl Denby had tried everything to lose weight.

But by age 48, she was becoming more obese, miserable and her weight had started to cause her major health problems.

“I was in pain most days, my back, my knees, and it was hard to do daily things like laundry, grocery store, just getting up to get dressed.” said Denby. “I used to joke with my friend I just want to be able to tie my shoes without cutting off my air supply. That was a big deal, so I was unhappy.”

Although Denby was a candidate for traditional weight-loss surgeries such as gastric bypass or lap-band surgery, she was apprehensive about undergoing a surgical procedure and recovery.

Cheryl Denby, 48, preparing food in her kitchen.
Cheryl Denby, 48, preparing food in her kitchen.NBC News

Fortunately, interventional radiologists have recently developed a new weapon against obesity: a minimally invasive alternative to gastric bypass called bariatric arteriale embolization or BAE.

Denby is one of seven patients selected to be part of a BAE pilot trial. Within the first three months, she has successfully lost 30 pounds.

For BAE, interventional radiologists thread a catheter through the wrist or groin to gain access to specific blood vessels in a precise area of the stomach. Once they zero in on their target, they inject microscopic beads to block the blood supply to this spot where the body’s "hunger hormone" ghrelin is produced.

The decrease in blood flow leads to what’s being reported as an 80 percent decrease in hunger. And the beads have already been safely used in heart and uterine procedures for decades.

Dr. Clifford Weiss, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, presented the early findings of the obesity trial at the Society of Interventional Radiology's annual meeting this month.

“This is essentially designed to be an outpatient procedure that takes under an hour with very little recovery time and very high safety profile,” said Weiss. “In our patients we saw 6 percent weight loss at one month, 9.5 percent weight loss of 3 months and 13 percent weight loss at 6 months.”

The patients in the study also enter a comprehensive weight management program to learn new lifestyle and dietary approach.

“They take a whole multi-faceted approach and they don't just put me out there,” said Denby. “They let me know that this still takes work.”

Dr. Weiss describes BAE as a happy medium between diet and exercise and invasive bariatric surgery.

“It fits in that zone between the two where there are a lot of treatment gaps," he said. "I think it adds a tool to the toolbox for the obese patient.”

Denby says she still has a ways to go before she is at her ideal weight. However, with each passing day and recent changes to her relationship with food, she walks more confidently down a healthier path.

“I was so ready to give up and now I feel so hopeful,” said Denby. “I can beat this. Have fun without feeling that weight that this is literally emotionally and physically that I felt was holding me back.”