November 5, 2008
Experimental Drug Tricks Body Into Burning Fat
Researchers in France say they have found a drug that tricks the body into burning off fat even when on a high-fat diet.
The drug SRT1720 "” a chemical cousin of red wine extract resveratrol "” targets the protein SIRT1, and is thought to combat ageing.
The drug protected mice against weight gain and insulin resistance, according to the team from the University of Louis Pasteur.
Although new drug treatments are needed, they should be used alongside lifestyle changes, UK obesity experts agreed.
Government statistics show about a quarter of men and a third of women in the UK are overweight.
A change in diet and an increase in physical exercise can shift excess weight, but can be hard for many to maintain.
Fewer drug options now exist since the removal of the anti-obesity pill rimonabant, also known as Acomplia, from the market amid safety concerns.
The university researchers became interested in the SIRT1 protein after earlier studies showing resveratrol countered some effects of a high-calorie diet via SIRT1.
But tests in mice showed that for humans it would take gallons of wine to stand a chance of getting the same benefits. Therefore, the researchers turned their attention to creating a more potent drug that would specifically target SIRT1.
The team discovered that a low dose of SRT1720 partially protected mice from gaining weight on a high-fat diet after 10 weeks of treatment by shifting the metabolism to a fat-burning mode that normally takes over only when energy levels are low.
They noted that the drug completely prevented weight gain at higher doses. It also improved the rodents' blood sugar tolerance and insulin sensitivity, which are important for warding off diabetes.
Although test mice showed no visible side effects, the scientists agree further studies are needed to test the drug's safety and efficacy before it could be used in humans.
Other studies are investigating SIRT1 activators similar to SRT1720 developed by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals.
"This sounds interesting but is terribly early, said Professor Stephen Bloom, who has been researching obesity at Imperial College London.
"We do need new treatments for obesity, particularly as there are 1,000 deaths a week in the UK from obesity."
Other experts agree that any such drug should be used alongside dietary and lifestyle changes to tackle obesity.
"Research in this area is to be welcomed as an additional route of combating the obesity epidemic and associated comorbid disease," said Professor Ian Broom, of the Centre for Obesity Research and Epidemiology at The Robert Gordon University.
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