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New gene-targeting pill could help combat obesity

As unbelievable as it sounds, a new study could lead to the development of a pill that would allow people to eat as much as they want without gaining weight. The experts behind the research are hopeful that their approach will ultimately help to combat obesity and other dangerous health conditions like diabetes.

The international team of scientists, which was led by Professor Damien Keating at Flinders University, screened rodents to look for potential genetic candidates that may cause obesity. The researchers identified and removed a single gene known as RCAN1 in mice before feeding them a high fat diet. They discovered that the mice did not gain any weight, even after gorging on fatty foods for extended periods.

“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,” said Professor Keating.

The human body contains two types of fat: brown fat which burns energy and white fat which stores energy. Professor Keating explained that blocking RCAN1 helps to transform unhealthy white fat into healthy brown fat, which makes it a potential treatment for 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,” said Professor Keating.

“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.”

According to the researchers, further studies are needed to determine if the same approach is effective in humans.

“Our research is focused on understanding how cells send signals to each other and how this impacts health and the spread of disease,” explained Professor Keating.

“We really want to pursue this, it’s exciting and we have research funding from the Australian government through the National Health and Medical Research Council to continue to explore viable options. These results show we can potentially make a real difference in the fight against obesity.”

The study is published in the journal EMBO Reports.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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