Medical Frontier: Brain Surgery for Weight Loss


"She got a nausea feeling at higher voltages," said Whiting. "Our ideal plan would be to set the electrical setting at just below that threshold of nausea where she doesn't really feel any different but still readjust her weight thermostat so that she can metabolize better and actually eat less if that's what it takes."

Bailes said the goal was to help Poe feel satisfied when she ate. "We hope her sensation is a sensation of satiety, a sensation of fullness, a lack of compulsion to consume excess calories," he said.

Four weeks after the surgery, Poe said she had already lost three pounds. "When I eat, I get full faster," she said. "I just don't have the cravings like I used to have."

And she said she no longer has the urge to consume a whole 3-liter bottle of her favorite drink -- Pepsi -- every day.

As part of the study, Poe is required to keep a meticulous journal of everything she consumes, and doctors have carefully tracked her progress.

"If I have a craving it's just a little craving and it's not just a craving to keep eating and eating and eating it," she said. "My body feels different. I feel like I am more, I'm more satisfied as far as food goes. And ? I feel better."

Success of a Kind: Turning Down the Cravings but Weight Loss Remains Elusive

Yet in the eighteen months since Poe began the deep brain stimulation, she has continued to struggle with her obesity. Her weight has fluctuated since surgery, down a total of 18 pounds at one point and up to 10 pounds heavier at another point.

But doctors are seeing promise in the experimental treatment.

She is required to check in every two to three weeks and each time doctors adjust the voltage to her brain pacemakers and watch what happens.

"They turned me off for like two weeks and boy, I knew the difference when they did! In about 3 days I was ready to eat," Poe said.

Poe is ecstatic about the change the treatment has made. Her quality of life is far better. "I don't want to eat all the time and that's the biggest change," she said. "I know it's crazy but I am telling you if you saw me eating you would believe me."

Her doctors, too, are counting this effect as a success. "The fact that she hasn't lost weight is, is the next phase," said Bailes. "I think that is, is the more difficult part, and the part that has to be figured out by ? by our team here and others."

Poe's doctors have decided to shift focus. "The thing we are not getting to yet is the actual weight loss, which comes down to changing the metabolism," he said.

Venturing further into the medically unknown, late last month, Whiting and his team flew Poe to a lab at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where she spent most of a week alone in a closet-sized metabolic chamber for intense monitoring, while doctors turned up her electricity, measuring what each electrode was doing to see if they could increase her metabolism.

"A lot of people think I'm a guinea pig, but I feel like it's teaching," said Poe. "It's a learning experience. For them and for me. So I don't feel like I'm a guinea pig."

At the end of her stay in the chamber, the medical team discovered one setting that boosted her metabolism a sustained 18 percent. Over the course of the week in the chamber, Poe lost close to 10 pounds.

"The pieces are coming together but we don't know the end of the story yet," said Whiting.

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