Australian researchers are working to develop a pill that stops the body from storing excess fat and helps muscles burn more calories while resting.
The International study led by Professor Damien Keating at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, discovered a gene that when blocked leads to the reduction in the body’s ability to store fat and an increase in the ability of muscle to burn calories at rest.
The researchers are hoping the breakthrough will lead to the development of a pill to fight obesity without the need to improve diet or increase exercise.
When the single gene known as RCAN1 was removed in mice and they were fed, they failed to gain weight, even after gorging on high fat foods for prolonged periods.
The team is hopeful a similar approach that inhibits RCAN1 will also be effective in humans to combat obesity and serious diseases like diabetes.
Two thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of children are either overweight or obese, and the statistics are just as concerning in Britain and the US.
Professor Keating said blocking RCAN1 helped to transform unhealthy white fat into healthy brown fat, which burns energy.
He said tests using a variety of diets over a variety of time spans from eight weeks to six months resulted in improvements in health of mice in all the different diets where RCAN1 was blocked.
“We have already developed a series of drugs that target the protein that this gene makes, and we are now in the process of testing them to see if they inhibit RCAN1 and whether they might represent potential new anti-obesity drugs,” Professor Keating said.
“In light of our results, the drugs we are developing to target RCAN1 would burn more calories while people are resting. It means the body would store less fat without the need for a person to reduce food consumption or exercise more.”
“The ideal would be to take some kind of pill that didn’t require you to watch your diet, that didn’t require you to exercise.
“That might seem like a pipe dream but the findings we have out of this mouse study at least indicate a novel pathway we might be able to target that could eventuate into the development of such a pill.”
Further studies are required to determine if they translate the same results to humans.
“Our research is focused on understanding how cells send signals to each other and how this impacts health and the spread of disease,” Professor Keating said.
“We really want to pursue this, it’s exciting and we have research funding from the Australian government through the National Health and Medical Research Council to continue to explore viable options.
“We’re really hopeful that these drugs or prototypes of these drugs could eventually be used to treat obesity in humans.”
The study ‘’Regulator of Calcineurin 1 helps coordinate whole‐body metabolism and thermogenesis’’ can be viewed here.