Texas Scientists Develop Drug to Curb Obesity Without Dieting

Galveston, TX

Research scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston say they developed a promising new drug that curbs obesity without dieting and, based upon preliminary study findings, they may be on their way to unleashing a breakthrough for the millions who struggle with their weight.

Last week, UTMB announced they found a molecule that blocks the metabolic brake from operating in obese white fat cells. In doing so, they could increase the metabolism within white fat cells.

The new drug shows promise in selectively shrinking excess fat by increasing fat cell metabolism. It significantly reduced body weight and blood cholesterol levels without lowering food intake when tested in obese mice, according to a recent study published in Biochemical Pharmacology.

“As fat cells grow larger, they begin to overexpress a protein that acts as a metabolic brake that slows down fat cell metabolism, making it harder for these cells to burn accumulating fat,” said Stanley Watowich, one of the study’s senior authors and a UTMB biochemistry and molecular biology associate professor. “In addition, as the fat tissue expands, they secrete greater amounts of hormones and pro-inflammatory signals that are responsible for several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

In the study, the researchers placed mice on a high-fat diet until they became obese and then, they received either the drug or a placebo. Following 10 days of drug treatment, the obese mice getting the drug lost more than seven percent of their total body weight and their white fat tissue mass and cell size decreased by 30 percent compared with the placebo group. Also, blood cholesterol in drug-treated mice came down to normal levels, similar to those of non-obese mice.

Conversely, the placebo-treated mice continued to accumulate white fat and gain weight. Mice in both groups ate the same amount of food during the course of the study period, indicating that fat loss was not because of appetite suppression.

Traditional prescription weight-loss medications work in several ways. Some help people struggling with overeating feel less hungry while others make it harder for the body to absorb fat from foods.

However, Harshini Neelakantan, also a UTMB research scientist and senior study author, explained, “Blocking the action of the fat cell brake provides an innovative ‘fat’-specific mechanism to increase cell metabolism and reduce the size of white fat deposits, thereby treating a root cause of obesity and related metabolic diseases.”

The study underscores that serious health issues often accompany obesity such as cardiovascular and heart disease, stroke, non-alcoholic fatty liver, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate 40 percent of adults are considered obese, which they define as having a body-mass index (BMI) of more than 30 points. The CDC links obesity to 13 kinds of cancer, including thyroid, stomach, colorectal, breast, kidney, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate. According to UTMB, obesity-related medical expenses in the U.S. cost around $150 billion each year.

“These initial results are encouraging,” added Neelakantan, “and (they) support further development of this technology as a new and more effective approach to combating metabolic diseases.”

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