Australian researchers are developing a pill that could soon fight obesity after discovering a new way to turn fat-storing tissue into fat-burning tissue.
Scientists from the Garvan Institute blocking a specific receptor, which helps the body regulate its heat production, could increase fat metabolism and prevent weight gain.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communication.
“The Y1 receptor acts as a ‘brake’ on the generation of heat in the body,” said lead researcher Dr Yan-Chuan Shi.
“In our study, we found that blocking this receptor in adipose tissue turned ‘energy-storing’ fat into ‘energy-burning’ fat, which activated heat production and reduced weight gain.
“Most of the drugs currently used to treat obesity target the brain to suppress appetite and can have serious side effects that limit their use.
“Our study reveals an alternative approach that directly targets fatty tissue, which can potentially be a safer way to prevent and treat obesity.”
In a seven-week trial, the researchers tested the theory on mice, which were put on a high-fat diet and divided into two groups.
He found that the mice that received the experimental treatment gained 40% less weight compared to the second group.
“This significant reduction in body weight gain was caused by an increase in body heat production and a reduction in body fat,” said Shi.
“Furthermore, when we applied (the experimental treatment) to human fat cells isolated from obese individuals, we found that the cells began to activate the same genes involved in heat production as those in mice, suggesting that targeting the Y1 receptor pathway can similarly increase fat metabolism and reduce weight gain in humans.
The researchers added that it was important to show that the experimental treatment blocked the receptor via peripheral tissues and not via the brain.
“Most of the current prescribed treatments aim to reduce food intake by targeting the central nervous system,” said Shi.
“However, these can have significant psychiatric or cardiovascular side effects, which have resulted in over 80% of these drugs being withdrawn from the market.”
In Australia, it is estimated that obesity affects two-thirds of all adults.
The researchers hope that human clinical trials can begin within three years.