According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 70 percent of U.S. adults are considered to be overweight or obese. Such health conditions are known to decrease quality of life and are the prime cause of health care costs in the country.
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But now, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston say they've discovered a drug that could significantly reduce body weight without reducing food intake.
Senior author Stanley Watowich described how it all works in a university article:
“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,” he said. “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.”
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The researchers discovered a molecule that could essentially block the metabolic brake from working in harmful obese white fat cells, which in turn increased metabolism within the cells.
To study this phenomenon, researchers fed mice a high-fat diet until they became obese and then administered either the drug with the newly discovered molecule (an NNMT inhibitor) or a placebo.
Previous research has found the NNMT inhibitor enzyme has a role in slowing fat cell metabolism.
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The results after 10 days of treatment with the drug:
- The obese mice that received the drug lost more than 7 percent of their total body weight.
- The white fat tissue mass and cell size of obese mice that received the drug decreased by 30 percent compared to the placebo group.
- The obese mice that received the drug saw decreased blood cholesterol levels and normalized — numbers similar to nonobese mice.
The results after 10 days of treatment with the placebo:
- The obese mice that received a placebo continued to gain weight and white fat cells.
Mice in both experiment groups consumed the same amount of food, showing that the changes were not due to appetite suppression.
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In conclusion, researchers found that blocking the metabolic brake increased cell metabolism and decreased the size of white fat cells and their mass.
Further studies are needed to determine whether or not NNMT inhibitors are safe and effective in humans, but if they are, researchers are optimistic.
“These initial results are encouraging and support further development of this technology as a new and more effective approach to combating metabolic diseases,” senior author Harshini Neelakantan said.
The study is published in the January 2018 edition of the journal "Biochemical Pharmacology."