Image: AspireAssist

Though it bears some resemblance to a Tim and Eric sketch, the AspireAssist is a very real medical device, approved by the FDA for installation in people 22 or older “with a body mass index of 35 to 55, and who have failed to achieve and maintain weight loss through non-surgical weight-loss therapy.” It allows patients to drain predigested food from their stomachs into a nearby toilet.

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Installing the AspireAssist starts with surgeon making a hole in the abdomen. It’s a bit like a colostomy, but instead of poking a portion of the stomach through the skin, a tube is installed connecting the stomach to a “skinport” outside the body. According to the manufacturer, the procedure takes only 15 minutes, and the whole device can be removed in 10.

Shortly after eating, patients are supposed to connect the skinport to an outboard device and a bag of water. It goes like this:

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  • Open valve
  • Drain food into toilet
  • Force water back into the stomach
  • Repeat for five to ten minutes until “up to 30% of your meal” is gone

Aspire advises patients to “chew carefully and eat mindfully”... you know, to keep the tube from getting blocked with food bits. Despite how easy Aspire make sit sound, the FDA warns that patients using the AspireAssist will need “frequent medical visits” and “frequent monitoring by a health care provider.” The FDA really can’t stress how much maintenance this thing requires. And because it doesn’t drain your stomach completely, get ready to spend twice as much time in bathrooms.

The AspireAssist clinical trial provided to the FDA suggested that the 111 patients using the device lost more weight compared to a 60-person control group who were only provided with lifestyle therapy. (It’s unclear just what “lifestyle therapy” entails.) It’s not known if patients at the end of the treatment were able to keep off the weight they’d lost—one of the biggest problems in weight loss. It’s especially pertinent because the AspireAssist shuts off after 115 drainings, requiring a doctor’s appointment and a replacement part for the device.

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The CDC estimates the number of adults with obesity at almost 29 percent of the US population. It’s a huge problem, and the more available treatments the better. Gastric banding in particular has taken great strides in recent years, and has been shown to be safe and effective. The AspireAssist requires constant maintenance and carries the risk of infection, bleeding, fistulas, and death (among other things,) which makes it an unsavory option. But it’s an option nonetheless—and no matter how ridiculous it seems.

[FDA via CNBC]