Scientists have discovered that tweaking a single gene in mice allows them to eat as much food as they desire without gaining weight. With the holiday season upon us, it sounds too good to be true, but the researchers claim their discovery could be used as a basis for a human treatment in the near future.
Reporting in the journal EMBO Reports, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Flinders Unversity in Australia found that the single gene, known as RCAN1, acts as a feedback inhibitor for all kinds of metabolic processes and the production of body heat. After disabling this gene from the mice, they curiously discovered that they become were resistant to diet‐induced weight gain. Effectively, their metabolism was given a supercharge, allowing them to “burn up” more calories.
The experiment has so far only been tested with mice. Nevertheless, the researchers claim that their findings hold potential as a new drug therapy for humans with obesity or metabolic conditions.
“We know a lot of people struggle to lose weight or even control their weight for a number of different reasons. The findings in this study could mean developing a pill which would target the function of RCAN1 and may result in weight loss," lead author, Professor Damien Keating of Flinders University, said in a statement. “These results show we can potentially make a real difference in the fight against obesity."
"We have already developed a series of drugs that target the protein that this gene makes, and we are now in the process of testing them to see if they inhibit RCAN1 and whether they might represent potential new anti-obesity drugs," he added.
The human body contains two types of fat: white fat and brown fat. White fat, used to store energy, is the stuff you imagine when you hear the word fat. Brown fat cells, packed full of mitochondria, burn up energy and produce heat. We tend to lose our small supplies of brown fat as we age, and obese individuals and people with diabetes have even less. According to the researchers, disabling the RCAN1 can help turn the white fat into brown fat.
“In light of our results, the drugs we are developing to target RCAN1 would burn more calories while people are resting,” Professor Keating explained. “It means the body would store less fat without the need for a person to reduce food consumption or exercise more."
Of course, even if the researchers did squeeze these findings into a human treatment, you would still need a balanced diet for your wider health's sake. However, for people with chronic obesity or metabolic conditions, this could serve as a very helpful tool.