Obesity is a bit problem in the UK. Recent statistics show 15 million people in the country are obese and the number is expected to rise to 26 million by the year 2030. One in 10 deaths are already linked to obesity, so the figures for the future do not paint a picture of a heart-healthy Britain, but researchers at the University of Southampton may have come up with an answer.
It’s still early days, but the researchers have developed a new molecule that may be able to trick the body into believing it has just completed a gruelling work out, and cause it to burn calories accordingly.
So far Compound 14 has only been tested on mice, but the results were very promising. Within a week the obese rodents were showing improved glucose tolerance and had lost a staggering 5% of their bodyweight. However, the new compound appeared to have no effects at all when administered to non-obese mice.
Describing the unique nature of the compound, study co-author, Dr Felino Cagampang stated: “This new molecule seems to reduce glucose levels and at the same time decrease body weight, but only if the subject is obese.” His colleague Professor Ali Tavassoli is equally pleased with results of the study so far, stating the molecule “holds a lot of promise as a potential therapeutic agent”.
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How the Compound Works
Compound 14 works by suppressing the natural function of a cellular enzyme, called ATIC, that is important to the metabolism. This results in an accumulation of ZMP molecules and their abundance tricks the cells into behaving in the same way they would when experiencing an energy shortage. Such behaviour would normally be triggered when a low calorie diet or hard exercise caused the body to experience a shortage of calories. How the situation is triggered is not, perhaps, so important as the end results though, because whenever such an energy shortage is experienced an energy sensor called AMPK triggers the cells into absorbing more glucose and speeds up the metabolism in order to increase its energy take-up abilities. So it would appear the researchers are well on their way to developing a drug that could present dieters with a magic pill to take much of the hard work out of weight loss.
The new compound could also prove to be invaluable for helping to manage diabetes. When the laboratory mice were fattened-up in preparation for the study it caused them to become glucose intolerant—a symptom of pre-diabetes. A single dose of Compound 14 successfully brought the mice’s elevated glucose levels down to almost-normal levels. Then, after a further six days of treatment, their glucoses tolerance had improved.
An Ongoing Project
Although the early indications are good, the fact that Compound 14 has shown such promise when administered to mice does not necessarily mean it will prove to be so effective for humans, so further study is required before the molecule can be used as a treatment for diabetes or as a weight management aid. Apart from ascertaining Compound 14’s effectivity when administered to humans, the researchers will also need to be able to demonstrate it does not present unacceptable side effects. If they cannot the relevant government departments will not approve its use.
So although the researchers at the University of Southampton are continuing to develop compound 14, and monitor its effects when used as a long-term treatment, whether or not it can be developed into a drug for the treatment of diabetes and obesity remains to be seen.