Seems that Luigi Ambrosio, lead researcher on the project, which is currently undergoing clinical trials at Rome's Policlinico Gemelli hospital, and a colleague traveled to America, were horrified by the expanding waistlines as far as the eye could see, and decided that an absorbent material related to work they were doing for a Swedish paper product company had promise as an appetite suppressant and satiatant. Plus treating edemas and...watering plants. (No, I'm not going to let that one go.)
Basically, you pop this little cellulose pill and drink two eight ounce glasses of water. The water helps the pill expand into a tennis ball size/shape lump of gel, which sits in your tummy until being flushed through and out your GI tract. It's essentially gastric banding, but with a spacer instead of a clamp. (Many people commenting in other places say that drinking a glass or two of water alone is the same thing, but it's pretty clear - heh - that the benefit of this is that it can't quickly flush out of your stomach, and won't create the sloshy indigestion that is possible when food hits a stomach full of liquid.)
And on the one hand, this sounds interesting. Weight loss, proper diet, the whole nine yards, are undoubtedly a major issues in not just America, but much of the world. This seems like it could offer a method by which people who might otherwise be frustrated at the inability to feel full while eating calorically accurate amounts of food could learn what the right size meal is while not feeling hungry and any associated psychological twinges of failure that goes along with it.
On the other hand, though, what's the potential for abuse here? It sounds like the makers are hoping to release it as a supplement, which means no FDA or medical oversight. What would this do to someone who's already thin, but convinced they need to lose more weight? Would it enable anorexias to further depths of not eating? Is it possible to overdose, fill up with too much gel, rupture something? Is it a choking hazard? How hard would it be to clear from an airway, if the gel expanded in the throat and not the stomach? There are a lot of questions around implementation and safety that need to be addressed before it's released on the general market.
Still, using plant hydration gels is undoubtedly clever, and in a society that is battling the dual self-image issues of seeing virtuous beauty in thinness, and loathing in the expanding size many people have or are becoming, the jiggling, wiggling, belly-ful pill will undoubtedly find a home in many medicine cabinets.