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These obese mice lost a third of their fat using a natural protein — Will it work in humans?

Cancer researchers at Georgetown University came upon an unlikely surprise as they investigated the role of a specific protein in cancer.

» RELATED: America’s fitness boom fails to curb obesity problem

They found that the natural protein FGFBP3 (or BP3) turned out to be a powerful regulator of metabolism, helping obese laboratory mice that were genetically predisposed to eat often lose one third of their fat.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests BP3 may be a new therapy to aid those suffering with metabolic syndromes like Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.

» RELATED: Georgia adult, teen obesity rates among worst in America

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According to the Georgetown Medical Center, the BP3 protein is part of a family of binding proteins (fibroblast growth factor proteins) known to be involved in cell regulation, wound healing and injury response. These binding proteins are found in a variety of organisms, including humans.

“BP1, 2, and 3 are ‘chaperone’ proteins that latch on to FGF proteins and enhance their activities in the body,” researchers wrote in a university article. Senior investigator Anton Wellstein, who has previously researched the BP1 gene due to its elevated production in a range of cancers, recently focused his attention on BP3 to understand the protein better.

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During their research, Wellstein and his colleagues found that BP3 binds to three FGF proteins (FGF19, FGF21 andFGF 23) all involved in metabolism control, making “BP3 a strong driver of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism,” Wellstein said. “It’s like having a lot more taxis available in New York City to pick up all the people who need a ride.”

“With metabolism revved up, sugar in the blood, and fat processed in the liver are used for energy and is not stored,” he added. “And warehouses of fat are tapped as well. For example, the job of FGF21 is to control break down of fat, whether it is stored or just eaten.”

» RELATED: One-third of all humans are now overweight — and American children are leading the way

Whether the BP3 protein can be used as a therapy for human metabolic syndromes is still a mystery and further research is required, the authors said.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent numbers from 2015-2016 show that 93.3 million adults in the United States are obese. That’s nearly 40 percent of the population. Rates of obesity among children and teens are on the rise, too.

Read the full Georgetown University study at nature.com.

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