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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Hope for fat control drug
A compound that appears to switch off appetite in mice may hold clues to a similar drug for humans.
The scientists, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, believe that their chemical, called C75, stops the production of a hormone that makes the mice hungry.
A drug to aid dieting is one of the "holy grails" of medicine, as obesity is one of the major health problems affecting particularly the developed world.
It dramatically reduces the quality of life - and expected lifespan - of the patient, and imposes huge costs on health and social care systems.
The new compound works by a hitherto unknown pathway of chemical reactions in the brain cells, particularly those in those parts of the brain which are related to appetite.
Scientists have long known that a hormone called neuropeptide Y is a major appetite regulator - if animals fast, the amount of NPY increases and stimulates appetite.
The C75 chemical was given to the mice by injection, and the scientists found that their interest in food ceased suddenly within 20 minutes.
This effect lasts until a few days after the last injection, at which point the mice resume normal feeding.
However, by then, they had lost as much as 30% of their body weight, more than simply mice placed on an enforced fast.
The chemical is not thought to be toxic in any other way to mice, although far more rigorous scientific testing would be needed before any similar compound could be used on humans.
"We are not claiming to have found the fabled weight-loss drug.
"But the mice had a dramatic weight loss. Even more significant were metabolic differences.
"If you try to lose weight by starving, your metabolism slows down after a few days - it's a survival mechanism which sabotages many diets.
"We see this in fasting mice. Yet metabolic rate in the C75-treated mice doesn't slow at all."
Surprisingly, the C75 work has emerged as a byproduct of a long term examination of the abnormal way in which cancer cells metabolise fat.
And it may have an application in diabetes control, as all the modified mice used in the experiments had insulin-resistant diabetes.
The scientists found that their condition was reversed when the drug was applied.
The paper was reported in the journal Science.
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