Battle of the bulge

By Zofia Chustecka FAT-BUSTING injections that may allow people to lose weight even if they continue to eat junk food have been successfully tested in rats. Although the treatment will not be ready to test on humans until next year, the rats in the trial shed a tenth of their body weight. The prospect of injections that destroy fat cells was first raised in 1995, after initial research at Scotland’s Hannah Research Institute near Ayr. Last year researchers showed that obese adult rats, which are a good model for overweight people, lost about 10 per cent of their body weight after treatment. This weight loss was maintained for three months, even when the rats were fed a high-fat diet and when they were given a “cafeteria” diet—consisting of milk chocolate and peanuts . However, the rats lost even more weight when the treatment was combined with diet and exercise, says David Flint of the Hannah Research Institute. Flint invented the technique, which has been patented and licensed to ObeSys, a company set up to develop it. Flint is ObeSys’s scientific adviser. The technique uses the body’s immune system to destroy fat cells. The researchers have genetically engineered antibodies to home in on the fat cells (adipocytes), setting off an immune reaction that causes holes to appear in the fat cell membrane, which destroys the cells. Because the treatment uses the body’s own defence system, there should be no unexpected side effects, and because fat cells are destroyed, the researchers hope that the weight loss will be permanent. The treatment can also be used to reduce fat locally. The researchers injected pigs directly under their hides, and the resulting pork chops showed a clear site-specific fat reduction, just under the rind. This effect could reduce body fat stores in people—especially the abdominal fat stores of “apple-shaped” individuals that increase their risk of cardiovascular problems. Exactly how the treatment will be administered is still being studied. In animals, polyclonal antibodies were used, and were injected over a period of several days. In humans, monoclonal antibodies will be used, and will probably need to be infused intravenously. ObeSys is working with Cambridge Antibody Technology, and has already identified a number of antibodies that recognise adipocytes. ObeSys is looking for a pharmaceuticals partner to help develop and commercialise the technology. This will be a slow process, as the effects of losing weight have to be studied in the long-term, and so the technique is unlikely to be marketed for at least another five years, says Flint. Nick Finer, head of obesity research at Luton and Dunstable Hospital says it is “clearly a fascinating concept”,
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