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Swiss find new way of treating obesity

Obesity is striking at a much younger age nowadays Keystone Archive

Scientists from Switzerland and the United States have developed a new technique which could one day help combat obesity in humans.

This content was published on February 11, 2004 - 16:45

In experiments on rats they used injections of the hormone, leptin, to transform fat-storing cells into cells that burn fat.

Within 14 days the average weight of the rats fell by almost 30 per cent from 280 to 207 grams, and their fat reserves all but disappeared.

The rats continued to eat normally, although their food consumption also fell by 30 per cent.

Researchers from the universities of Geneva and Texas say their findings represent a new method for treating obesity, which could also be applied to humans.

“Important” discovery

“It’s a very important discovery, because it’s a whole new concept of burning [fat] stocks,” said Jacques Philippe of Geneva University’s faculty of medicine.

“The scientists discovered that in giving leptin to animals, the fat-storing tissue takes its own energy stores and burns them,” he told swissinfo.

“Until now the only way of burning calories was to reduce food intake or exercise.”

The rats injected with leptin apparently suffered no side effects - apart from the dramatic weight loss - and were active and healthy following the treatment, the scientists said.

Two-week trial

At the end of the two-week test period the scientists registered a huge increase in the number of mitochondria - or energy centres - in the rats’ cells, which would have aided the burning of fat.

Despite the findings, Philippe said leptin - which has been used on obese patients in the past without great success - might not be the best substance to trigger weight loss in humans.

“Unfortunately obese people are resistant to this hormone,” Philippe said. “But potentially [other] medications could do the same as leptin and activate the adipose [fat-storing] tissue to burn its own stocks.

“Now we just need to find medications which can increase this mechanism.”

Philippe said it would be at least ten years before such a drug was available for use on humans.

But given the spread of obesity in the western world it was “clearly an important area of research and investment for the pharmaceutical industry”.

swissinfo

In brief

Swiss and US scientists have developed a new method for treating obesity in rats.

By injecting the rats with the hormone leptin, they were able to transform fat-storing cells into fat-burning cells.

The rats lost almost 30% of their body weight within 14 days, while continuing to eat normally.

The scientists say the same concept of cell transformation could be applied to humans, but medications will take at least ten years to develop.

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