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Engineered Protein May Help With Weight Loss

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Scientists have reportedly found a naturally occurring protein and have developed it to bring about significant changes among obese mice and monkeys, letting them lose weight and improve their metabolic and heart health.

The obesity rate in the United States has become a looming problem, rising towards 40% nationwide in recent years. Doctors and drug designers have wondered if there is any way to combat this problem with a simple solution, such as a pill?

There may be such a thing, according to people at the biotechnology company Amgen. Researchers were able to simulate the same results of bariatric surgery, which involves a surgeon reshaping the stomach and intestinal tract to reduce the amount they can hold, The Seattle Times reports.

The scientists bioengineered the GDF15 protein, and placed them in obese mice. They observed that the mice refused extra-rich condensed milk – a food item that normally encourages mice to eat a lot. The mice chose standard pet food instead, and did not consume as much condensed milk.

After 35 days, the obese mice lost roughly 20% of their body weight, while the mice on a placebo gained around 6%, the study says. Insulin levels and total cholesterol levels also appeared to be better in the treated mice compared to their untreated companions.

These results suggest that the GDF15 protein may be somehow turning off the reward-driven kind of eating that leads to weight gain, and eventually, obesity.

While many weight-loss medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration are effective in nudging the food preferences of obese people towards healthier options, bariatric surgery still remains the top preferred method for extreme weight loss. Why is a question that scientists have been trying to answer.

The results are “early” yet, according to Amgen, but its focus on obesity reflects the company’s interest in developing drugs to treat cardiovascular disease.

The natural version of GDF15 breaks down quickly in blood, so the scientists decided to give it more staying power in order for it to be effective.

The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.

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