FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.

posted on 25 August 2015

Obesity Drug May Be On The Horizon After Study Pinpoints Genetic Mechanism

by The Conversation, The Conversation

-- this post authored by Tim Spector, King's College London

Nearly half of all Europeans are genetically predisposed to obesity. The condition is a worldwide epidemic affecting more than half a billion people and rising every year in most countries.

Despite this, we know little about the genetic origin of the condition and have no good medical treatment for it other than bariatric surgery. But now a genetic study seems to have cracked the mystery - raising hopes for more efficient treatment.

The global obesity crisis is often blamed on an increasingly sedentary life style and poor eating habits. However, studies have shown that 70-80% of the differences between people in body fat are due to their genes (this is called the heritability).

The first large-scale genetic studies for obesity were launched in 2007, after the initial mapping of the human genome. And one gene, dubbed FTO, made the headlines by popping its head above the other 20,000 genes in the pack. For the past eight years, despite finding nearly 100 other genes linked to obesity, FTO and the area around it have remained the top signals. But scientists around the world have struggled to understand how the gene works and whether it really is behind obesity.

A switch for fat burning?

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine by an international team of researchers, took seven years and cost more than a million dollars. It is based on a wide range of studies of hundreds of patients, cell types and laboratory mice. The researchers also mined a rich public resource of databases for gene expression as well as the heritable changes in gene expression (epigenetics), demonstrating just how complex this field has become.

It turns out that the FTO gene doesn't do much directly - it influences other nearby genes which cause the changes via regions in the DNA called enhancers and repressors. These can change the precursors of adult fat cells while they are still developing. All fat cells originally come from our bone marrow along with cartilage and bone cells and they pass through different stages as they become fat cells.

Could a simple pill replace invasive and expensive obesity treatments using adjustable gastric bands. JohnnyMrNinja/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

We know from recent research there are different types of fat cells in humans, with the most common being white, then some beige and a few brown - each storing and burning fat differently. Obese people have a greater proportion of white cells, which stores the fat rather than burning it off (getting larger as a result). The susceptibility gene variant that the study uncovered makes people produce less brown and beige fat - although the natural effects are quite small.

The team went on to block this pathway using a gene editing tool called CRISPR and found the effects on cells in culture and in lab mice were actually substantial: with five- to seven-fold effects on the animals' ability to burn fat. In fact, blocking the pathway made the animals 50% thinner.

The implications of this work are that after ten years of knowing about thousands of disease-related genes, we finally have the tools to crack the underlying mechanisms. By understanding how the body changes unhealthy white fat cells to healthy beige cells, we can start to develop new treatments for obesity.

This work also emphasises that the billions of dollars spent on the Human Genome Project and its spinoffs such as ENCODE and Epigenetics Roadmap have not been wasted. But we have redefined the parameters of success.

We know now that identifying genes for the most common diseases is actually pretty useless for prediction or diagnosis. Knowing all the 100 identified obesity genes only explains less than 5% of the genetic effect in an individual. Emerging fields such as epigenetics, metabolomics or microbiomics or the old fashioned way of looking at the health of your parents are much better for personalised medicine.

But if you want to understand how to design a badly needed drug for obesity, gene based studies like this are the key. Full-scale research could start on drugs that increase the relative production of beige and brown fat. Hopefully, trials could be underway in humans within a decade.

The ConversationTim Spector is Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical News Post Listing

Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.

You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.

Econintersect Contributors


Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF

The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.

Take a look at what is going on inside of
Main Home
Analysis Blog
Run A High Pressure Economy? Janet Yellen Does Not Understand the Problem
Comments on Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’, Part III
News Blog
How Miller Stacks Up Against His Draft Class
Inside The Machine: How Two Nobel Winners Taught Us How Companies Tick
Healthcare's Dirty Little Secret: Results From Many Clinical Trials Are Unreliable
The Cleveland Indian's Unique Use Of Andrew Miller
What We Read Today 26 October 2016
Why Do So Many Price Tags End In .99
September 2016 New Home Sales Improve.
Higher GDP Growth In The Long Run Requires Higher Productivity Growth
Quantum Encryption Is Secure Because Information Encoded In A Quantum Particle Is Destroyed As Soon As It Is Measured
The Stock Market Is Up, But Mutual Fund Investors Are Fleeing
Infographic Of The Day: Google's Hidden Games
Early Headlines: Asia Srocks Mostly Lower, Energy HY Bonds Surge, Google Fiber Cutback, Shadow Banks Dominate Mortgages, NATO Crowds Russia, Coffee Surges And More
Top 10 American Misconceptions about China (Version 3)
Investing Blog
Thirsty For Income? How To Thrive In This Yield Desert
Apple's First Annual Sales Decline In 15 Years
Opinion Blog
A Hard Brexit And Reduced Migration Won't Benefit UK Workers
What Triggers Collapse?
Precious Metals Blog
Inflation Surging As Platinum Signals Stock Market Decline
Live Markets
26Oct2016 Market Close: US Markets Close Lower, Boeing Shares Up, Texas Tea Stabilizes In Low 49's, Gold Falls To 1266, Friday's Fed Rate Change Promises To Be A Game Changer
Amazon Books & More

.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

Crowdfunding ....



Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day


Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution



  Top Economics Site Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved