Scientists have used gene therapy to transform fat-storing cells into fat-burning cells. They hope the finding, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may one day lead to new treatments for obesity. The researchers, from Switzerland and the US, triggered the change by adding a protein called leptin to cells. Rats given the treatment shed weight dramatically without any apparent side-effects. Some doctors have used leptin injections to treat people with extreme obesity. However, the work is still at an experimental stage.
The new study further raises hopes that leptin treatment will eventually become more widespread. The researchers focused on rats bred to be genetically predisposed to develop diabetes. They injected the rats with a virus containing the leptin gene. The rats decreased in weight from an average of 280 grams to 207 grams in 14 days. They also ate 30% less food, but remained healthy and active.
Leptin is normally produced by fat cells, or adipocytes, but is somehow prevented from interfering with the accumulation of surplus fat. Scientists believe this is to ensure fat cells maintain their vital function of storing fuel during times of food shortage.
Dr Andrew Hill, chairman of the Association for the Study of Obesity: "There is an enormous distance between what these researchers have done and a GP using it to treat 400-500 patients on their list for obesity." Dr Hill said many scientific advances had promised the prospect of a quick fix for obesity, but for most people the only solution was to work hard at maintaining a low weight throughout their life, reports &to=http://www.news.bbc.co.uk' target=_blank>BBC
Set against the backdrop of an increasingly overweight population, the 1994 discovery of the fat-regulating protein leptin was widely heralded as a boon for obesity research. The hormone continues to be a focus of investigation. Findings published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicate that increasing leptin levels in the body can fundamentally change the nature of fat cells—from idle storage containers to fat-burning machines, informs &to=http://www.sciam.com' target=_blank>SciAm.com
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