From the AGA Journals

Endoscopic intragastric balloon improved NASH parameters

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Follow-up needed to show sustained improvement in NAFLD

Obesity a well-known risk factor for the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, the latter of which is expected to become the leading indication for liver transplantation. As such addressing the steatosis in these patients is critical. A drop of even 5%-10% of total body weight with diet and exercise can result in significant improvement in liver disease.

Dr. Wasif Abidi is affiliated with Baylor St. Luke's Hospital in Houston

Dr. Wasif Abidi

Unfortunately, achieving this weight loss is challenging. For the appropriate candidate, bariatric surgery offers the most effective and durable route to weight loss. However, not all patients qualify, and uptake of surgery in appropriate candidates remains low. As such, other treatment options are needed. Endoscopic bariatric therapies, including intragastric balloons, are one such treatment option that may provide significant improvement in hepatic steatosis. However data to support this remain limited.

In this article, Dr. Bazerbachi and colleagues work to advance the case for intragastric balloons as a successful treatment option for NAFLD. They performed a prospective, open-label study on 21 patients treated with an intragastric balloon for 6 months. Using gold-standard histology and noninvasive magnetic resonance elastography before and after therapy, they show significant improvement in NAFLD activity score (median change, 3 points; range, 1-4) over a short duration of treatment. Interestingly, the collection of the liver biopsy sample is done via endoscopic ultrasound, which can be easily performed during placement and removal of this intragastric balloon. While promising, follow-up studies are needed to show sustained improvement in NAFLD after the balloon is removed.

Wasif M. Abidi, MD, PhD, is assistant professor of medicine, gastroenterology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.



Endoscopically placed intragastric balloons were safe and effective for managing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), according to the findings of an open-label, prospective study of 21 patients.

Six months after balloon placement, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease activity scores (NAS) had improved in 18 of 20 biopsied patients (90%), with a median decrease of 3 points (range, 1-4 points). Magnetic resonance elastography showed that fibrosis had improved by 1.5 stages in half of patients (10 of 20). “Other than postprocedural pain (in 5% of patients), no serious adverse events were reported,” Fateh Bazerbachi, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and associates wrote in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affects approximately 70% of obese adults and half of obese children, meaning that tens of millions of individuals are affected in the United States alone. Lifestyle changes rarely induce more than 10% body weight loss, the threshold for “meaningful improvement in NASH,” and bariatric surgery is not recommended for managing mild or moderate obesity and often is not desired by patients who do qualify, the researchers noted. “Endoscopic bariatric therapies are garnering more attention as potential strategies to address these shortcomings in obesity care and its comorbidities [, but] their influences on the driving and prognostic parameters of NAFLD remain unclear.”

In all, 81% of the study participants were women, with a mean age of 54 years and an average body mass index (BMI) of 44 kg/m2. At baseline, more than half had NAS scores of 4 or 5 and histologic fibrosis scores of 2 or 3. Baseline hemoglobin A1c levels averaged 7.4% (range, 5.1%-11.1%) and 29% of patients had impaired glucose tolerance. After receiving endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)–guided core liver biopsies, patients received an endoscopically placed fluid-filled intragastric balloon (Orbera, Apollo Endosurgery, Austin, Tex.). The balloon was removed 6 months later and magnetic resonance elastography and a second core biopsy were performed. One patient did not receive an exit biopsy (because of starting antithrombotic therapy) and thus was excluded from the final analysis.

Of 20 patients, 16 (80%) had at least a two-point improvement in NAS at 6 months, and half had NAS scores of less than 2, indicating remission of NASH. Three of 20 patients (15%) showed improvements in mild fibrosis, 12 showed no change, and 5 showed worsening. Patients lost an average of 11.7% of body weight (standard deviation, 7.7%; P = .01), BMI dropped by a mean of 5.2 (SD, 0.75; P = .01) and A1c fell by an average of 1.3% (SD, 0.5%; P = .02). Waist circumference also decreased significantly (mean, –14.4 cm; SD, –2.2 cm; P = .001), as did hip circumference, fasting glucose, AST, ALT, and AST-to-platelet ratio index. “Percent total body weight loss did not correlate with reductions in NAS or fibrosis,” the researchers noted.

Together, these findings suggest that intragastric balloon placement “may allow a reversal in the natural history of NAFLD and NASH, despite the short duration of the intervention,” they concluded. “The logistics of IGB [intragastric balloon] placement will enable accurate risk stratification of these patients in a safe and reproducible manner, obviating the need for additional investigations, and clarifying the real risk of patients afflicted with NAFLD.”

Apollo Endosurgery provided intragastric balloons, and Medtronic provided SharkCore needles. The senior author and two coinvestigators disclosed ties to Apollo Endosurgery, Medtronic, Metamodix, Boston Scientific, Cairn Diagnostics, Aspire Bariatrics, Johnson and Johnson, AstraZeneca, Genfit, Gila Therapeutics, and several other companies. The other investigators reported having no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Bazerbachi F et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020 Apr 30. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2020.04.068.

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