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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Hormone breakthrough in obesity
Byrom Domsak
Byrom Domsak has lost a lot of weight
Three young severely obese people from Turkey who could find no way to rein in their uncontrollable appetites have found the answer to their problems on the American west coast.

They have become among the first people in the world to benefit from an experimental technique that is showing great promise in helping severely obese people to shed their excess weight.

Mouse
Leptin worked on obese mice
The treatment is based on injections of leptin, a hormone that appears to play a central role in suppressing appetite by informing the brain when the stomach is full.

Doctors believe its use could form the basis of a new and highly effective way to treat severe obesity.

Byrom Domsak and his two cousins flew out to Los Angeles after their cases were brought to the attention of doctors at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In the 10 months that they have been receiving leptin injections, they have each shed more than half their body weight.

Previously, they ate constantly because they were always hungry. Now the injections have stimulated their bodies to switch on its "stomach full" signs.

Nimble

Dr Julio Lucinio, who carried out the treatment, said: "They slowly began to equalise their weight, and then started to lose the weight.

Leptin
The volunteers were given leptin injections
"They went from being severely obese to being just nicely overweight."

Byrom is delighted by the results: "I feel so light, so nimble, it makes so happy.

"I want to play football with my friends because I could not do that before, and I want to find a girlfriend."

Seven years ago scientists used leptin injections to treat obese mice.

However, this is the first time that a similar technique has been successfully used on humans.

Leptin is released into the bloodstream by fat cells in the body.

It is known to act on a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, where it carries a message to stop eating.

Deficiency

Dr Ian Campbell, chairman of the UK National Obesity Forum, told BBC News Online that the treatment sounded promising.

But he warned that only a small proportion of severely obese people were deficient in leptin.

"This shows that replacing leptin can have a profound effect in achieving weight loss, but what remains to be seen is the effect leptin would have on people who are not deficient in the hormone in the first place."

See also:

21 Sep 01 | Health
30 Jun 00 | Health
18 Sep 00 | Science/Nature
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