Many people dream of being able to eat the foods they want without having to worry about packing on excess pounds; new research from an international team of scientists has shown that may one day be possible. When the researchers deleted a gene called RCAN1 from a mouse model, they watched those mice consume lots of fatty foods over a long period of time, all without gaining weight. The findings, which can help investigators develop treatments for metabolic diseases, have been published in EMBO Reports.
"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 the study leader, Professor Damien Keating of Flinders University.
The human body carries two kinds of fat. The first kind is brown fat, which generates heat, can help burn calories, and is seen as healthy. The other type is white fat, which builds up around the body as it stores energy and is considered unhealthy.
Blocking RCAN1, said Keating, helps transform white fat to healthier brown fat, so it might make a great 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 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."
The researchers tried different diets over various time periods, and their findings held true. "We looked at a variety of different diets with various timespans from eight weeks up to six months, and in every case, we saw health improvements in the absence of the RCAN1 gene,” said Keating.
Obesity is a growing health problem around the world. The World Health Organization considers it a health epidemic and blames the deaths of 2.8 million people every year on excess body weight or obesity. It’s estimated that 1.9 billion people in both poor and wealthy countries around the world are overweight; the rate has nearly tripled since 1975. Obesity rates are rising in children as well.
This work could help create a relatively simple treatment for a complicated problem, but first, the findings have to be confirmed 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. 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,” Keating added. “These results show we can potentially make a real difference in the fight again obesity."