Researchers in Australia are developing a pill that could soon fight obesity after discovering a new way to switch fat-storing tissue into fat-burning tissue.
Scientists from the Garvan Institute found blocking a specific receptor, which helps the body regulate its heat production, could increase fat metabolism and prevent weight gain.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
“The Y1 receptor acts as a ‘brake’ for heat generation in the body,” lead researcher Dr Yan-Chuan Shi said.
“In our study, we found that blocking this receptor in fat tissues transformed the ‘energy-storing’ fat into ‘energy-burning’ fat, which switched on heat production and reduced weight gain.
“Most of the current medications used to treat obesity target the brain to suppress appetite and can have severe side effects that limit their use.
“Our study reveals an alternative approach that targets the fat tissues directly, which may potentially be a safer way to prevent and treat obesity.”
In a seven-week trial, researchers tested the theory on mice, who were placed on a high-fat diet and divided into two groups.
It found the mice who received the experimental treatment gained 40 per cent less weight compared to the second group.
“This significant reduction of body weight gain was caused by an increase in body heat generation and reduction in fat mass,” Shi said.
“Further, when we applied (the experimental treatment) to human fat cells isolated from obese individuals, we found that the cells began switching on the same genes involved in producing heat as the ones in mice, which suggests that targeting the Y1 receptor pathway may similarly increase fat metabolism and reduce weight gain in humans.”
Researchers added it was important to demonstrate the experimental treatment blocked the receptor via peripheral tissues, and not via the brain.
“Most current prescribed treatments are aimed at reducing food intake by targeting the central nervous system,” Shi said.
“However, these can have significant psychiatric or cardiovascular side effects, which have resulted in over 80 per cent of these medications being withdrawn from the market.”
In Australia, obesity is estimated to affect two-thirds of all adults.
Researchers hope human clinical trials can begin within three years.