Developmental drug shrinks fat cells without suppressing appetite

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A developing anti-obesity drug out of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston has been proven to shrink fat cells and reduce blood cholesterol levels without suppressing appetite, a study published in Biochemical Pharmacology reports.

A UTMB research team led by Stanley J. Watowich, PhD, tested the experimental drug in a population of mice who were fed high-fat diets over a period of 10 days. The drug was developed after Watowich and colleagues discovered a molecule that blocks a metabolic brake integral to slowing down fat cell metabolism.

“As fat cells grow larger, they begin to overexpress a protein that acts as a metabolic brake that slows down fat cell metabolism, making it harder for these cells to burn accumulating fat,” Watowich said in a UTMB release. “In addition, as the fat tissue expands, they secrete greater amounts of hormones and pro-inflammatory signals that are responsible for several chronic disease, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The researchers were able to block that metabolic brake from operating in obese white fat cells, effectively increasing the speed of metabolism in those cells.

Obese mice who were fed the drug saw a 7 percent decrease in total body weight at the end of the 10-day trial period, Watowich and co-authors reported. Those rodents’ white fat tissue mass and cell size also decreased by 30 percent compared to the placebo group, and their blood cholesterol levels were lowered to normal. Overweight mice who were fed a placebo drug continued to gain weight.

Both groups of mice, however, ate the same amount of food during the study period, suggesting fat loss wasn’t due to a suppressed appetite.

“Blocking the action of the fat cell brake provides an innovative ‘fat’-specific mechanism to increase cell metabolism and reduce the size of white fat deposits, thereby treating a root cause of obesity and related metabolic disease,” senior author Harshini Neelakantan, PhD, said in the release. “These initial results are encouraging and support further development of this technology as a new and more effective approach to combating metabolic diseases.”