A team of researchers has discovered a method that allows mice to eat fat to their heart's’ content without getting obese. The technique could reportedly treat and prevent humans from getting obese in the future.
The scientists manipulated a signaling system called Hedgehog pathway, which is involved in developing cells throughout the body. The team from Washington University School of Medicine was successful in containing obesity in mice indicating that in the future, a similar pharmaceutical route could be developed for humans.
The researchers grew mice with genes, which would turn on the Hedgehog pathway in its fat cells when the mice consumed a huge quantity of fat. The research result showed that though the mice on such a diet did not become extremely obese, the lab mice that did not have the special genes became fat.
By stimulating Hedgehog and linked proteins in fat cells, the researchers prevented the mice’s fat cells from accumulating and storing fat droplets. The researchers feel that if they can figure out strategies to carefully target fat cells then activating the pathway could be helpful in fighting obesity.
The findings show that the Hedgehog pathway does not let the cell grow more than a certain size. It also maintained low levels of blood sugar for the treated mice.
“Fat gain is due mainly to increased fat cell size,” said researcher Fanxin Long. “Each fat cell grows bigger so that it can hold larger fat droplets. We gain weight mainly because fat cells get bigger, as opposed to having more fat cells.”
Hedgeway Pathway For Humans
The researchers feel that it will take some more research for the process to be successful in humans. However, it could result in a new therapy to treat obesity. Long added that the mice used in the research consumed a high-fat diet but did not gain weight. In the case of people, excess fat leads to obesity.
Long also said that replicating the findings for humans can be tricky and any drug that activates the pathway has to be meticulously targeted to avoid possible adverse effects. Certain cancers have been related to excess Hedgehog activity; however, because the system is believed to work in same ways in mice and humans, it could be possible to target it to the fat tissue as an obesity treatment.
Over one-third of the U.S. adult population is obese. The estimated yearly medical costs for obesity is more than $147 billion in the country. Obese people are more at risk for cancer, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.