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The New Pill That Assures Weight Loss
scientists have found a new hormone that suppresses the urge to eat leading to weight loss.
Stanford university scientists have discovered a potential new weapon in the battle of the bulge: a hormone that reduces the urge to eat.

It is the latest hope in the frustrating quest for the elusive perfect diet pill. With obesity rates soaring in the United States, there is great demand for new and better medicines to aid weight loss.

The newly found hormone, called obestatin, has been tested only in slender mice, not fat people. So it is not known if the discovery by Dr Aaron J.W Hsueh and his team will ever translate into a useful medication.

But in a nation where 65 percent of people are either over-weight or obese, according to the, US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the hormone is likely to excite scientists, drug makers and frustrated dieters.

"It is a new piece in the puzzle on complex body weight regulation," said Katrina Kelner, managing editor of the journal Science, where the research was recently published.

Obestatin is a hormone produced naturally in mice, and probably humans as well. However, far more work needs to be done, said Hsueh at a news conference this month in Washington, DC.

It's possible, for instance, that the hormone just made the mice too sick to feel like eating-although they did not appear nauseated, he said.

The study is being taken seriously, despite such limited data, because this is not just any hormone.

What makes it special is that the same gene responsible for a hormone blamed for weight gain, called ghrelin, discovered several years ago, regulates it. Like ghrelin, the stomach makes obestatin.

Dr Matthias Tschop of the University of Cincinnati, who reviewed the work, called it "an unexpected but very, very intriguing finding."

The Stanford team thinks the two hormones may work in tandem to balance body weight.

"These two hormones have opposing actions in body weight regulation," Hsueh said.

Many other chemicals are likely to be involved in telling the brain whether the stomach is full or empty, he said. And each chemical is unlikely to do just one thing, but may control many other metabolic functions as well.

This complicates the search for a miracle diet pill. In 2002, scientists thought they had found a family of chemicals that would turn into weight-loss drugs. They worked in mice.

But in people, there was a surprise side effect: Men experienced prolonged, uncomfortable and unwanted erections. While perhaps a future competitor to Viagra, the compound was unsuitable for routine weight loss.

Other agents have suffered setbacks, as well. The popular diet-drug combination, known as fen-phen was pulled from the market after being linked to lung disease and heart damage. Amphetamines have a wide range of ill effects and haven't been prescribed for weight loss for years. Meridia and Xenical, the only medicines approved in the United States for long-term treatment of obesity, are only modestly effective. Many patients who take the drugs stop losing weight after six months.

The hormone leptin, produced by fat cells that inform the brain about fat storage, was hailed in 1994 as a possible magic bullet for weight loss. But it was disappointing as a treatment, except for people who lacked the substance.

A drug to suppress appetite is a coveted prize for drug companies. The Stanford research was funded by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research, which has rights to the discovery.

Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Merck and other companies are also seeking chemicals involved in weight regulation.

"Obese patients shouldn't get their hopes up for a new drug, but it is certainly a step in the right direction," Tschop said.
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Posted on : 28/11/2005
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