MAY 05, 2017 8:41 AM PDT

'Exercise-in-a-pill' boosts stamina in mice


Is it possible to bypass countless hours of endurance training by popping a stamina pill? Recent research in mouse studies suggest that stamina can be captured in chemical form and ingested for serious results. How’s that for instant gratification?

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Marathon runners and long-distance cyclists are renowned for their unending endurance. Years of rigorous training transformed these athletes’ muscles to burn more fat while reserving glucose for the brain. This is how the athletes minimize fatigue, which is caused by the depletion of glucose supply to the brain.

The drug, called GW1516, was develped in the 1990s for the treatment of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Then in 2007, the first studies hinted at the drug's ability to boost physical performance in mice. With more recent investigations, scientists found that the drug increases stamina by willing the muscles to burn more fat while leaving the glucose supply alone. In mouse studies, sedentary animals that were given GW1516 for eight weeks were able to outrun control animals by 110 minutes on a treadmill before showing signs of fatigue. That’s mighty impressive considering that the average person can typically run for 15 to 30 minutes before getting winded.

The chemical affected a vast network of 975 genes. Genes that increased fat metabolism were upregulated while genes that promote the breakdown of glucose were uncharacteristically silenced.

"If you reprogram the genetics, you can acquire that level of fitness without having to expend a lot of energy," said Ronald Evans, the study’s author.

Evans noted that the increased stamina was not a result of new muscle biology. "What's interesting to me here is that there is no change in fiber type or mitochondrial content, and that the improvement in endurance from GW1516 is primarily, or overwhelmingly, due to differences in glucose management," said Evan Williams, a scientist unassociated with the current study.

While the results seem promising, it’s important to remember that the results were obtained in mice. There’s no telling if the drug will behave the same when tested in human subjects. And the researchers may have difficulty getting that sort of clinical trial underway, at least in the US, since GW1516 is, ultimately, a performance enhancing drug. On the black market, GW1516 is known as Endurobol.


"That doesn't mean we shouldn't develop the drug for the people who need it," said Evans. He encouraged that the drug be viewed beyond the scope of athletics. Rather, if we view the drug from the perspective of the elderly or those who have physical limitations, the drug could be life-changing. But so far, the manufacture of the drug is currently restricted to Russia; the team will have to show deeper evidence of the drug’s benefits to human health in the near future.

Additional source: Live Science


About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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