An anti-obesity pill that allows you to eat as much as you want without gaining weight is a step closer to reality after a breakthrough by an international research team led by scientists at Adelaide’s Flinders University.
While it sounds too good to be true, a pill which cures obesity without requiring a drastic diet change or exercise could be a reality in the near future, the university says.
Researchers found that when a single gene known as RCAN1 was removed in mice and they were fed, they failed to gain weight, even after gorging on high fat foods for prolonged periods.
The international team behind the study are hopeful a similar approach that inhibits this gene will also be effective with humans to combat obesity and serious diseases like diabetes.
Led by Damien Keating at Flinders University, the study used a huge genetic screen in rodents to identify novel genetic candidates that may cause obesity, potentially paving the way for new drug therapies.
“We know a lot of people struggle to lose weight or even control their weight for a number of different reasons. The findings in this study could mean developing a pill which would target the function of RCAN1 and may result in weight loss,” Professor Keating said.
Obesity is a major global health epidemic, resulting in increased risk of serious diseases like type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, but avenues for effective therapeutic treatments are lacking.
There are two types of fat in the human body — brown fat burns energy, while white fat stores energy. Professor Keating said blocking RCAN1 helped to transform unhealthy white fat into healthy brown fat, presenting a potential treatment method in the fight against obesity.
“We have already developed a series of drugs that target the protein that this gene makes, and we are now in the process of testing them to see if they inhibit RCAN1 and whether they might represent potential new anti-obesity drugs.
“In light of our results, the drugs we are developing to target RCAN1 would burn more calories while people are resting.
“It means the body would store less fat without the need for a person to reduce food consumption or exercise more.”
Two thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of children are either overweight or obese, and the statistics are just as concerning in Britain and the US.
Professor Keating said studies of different diets with various timespans from eight weeks up to six months showed that in every case there were health improvements in the absence of the RCAN1 gene.
“Our research is focused on understanding how cells send signals to each other and how this impacts health and the spread of disease,” he said.
The National Health and Medical Research Council has provided funding to extend the research and “continue to explore viable options”.