Scientists find key to obesity
Scientists find key to obesity (Thinkstock/AP)
Scientists find key to obesity
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Scientists have finally figured out how the key gene tied to obesity makes people fat, a major discovery that could open the door to an entirely new approach to the problem beyond diet and exercise.
The work solves a big mystery: Since 2007, researchers have known that a gene called FTO was related to obesity, but they didn't know how, and could not tie it to appetite or other known factors.
Now experiments reveal that a faulty version of the gene causes energy from food to be stored as fat rather than burned. Genetic tinkering in mice and on human cells in the lab suggests this can be reversed, giving hope that a drug or other treatment might be developed to do the same in people.
The work was led by scientists at MIT and Harvard University and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.
The discovery challenges the notion that "when people get obese it was basically their own choice because they choose to eat too much or not exercise," said study leader Melina Claussnitzer. She is a genetics specialist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "For the first time, genetics has revealed a mechanism in obesity that was not really suspected before" and gives a third explanation or factor that's involved.
Independent experts praised the discovery.
"It's a big deal," said Dr. Clifford Rosen, a scientist at Maine Medical Center Research Institute and an associate editor at the medical journal.
"A lot of people think the obesity epidemic is all about eating too much," but our fat cells play a role in how food gets used, he said. With this discovery, "you now have a pathway for drugs that can make those fat cells work differently."
Several obesity drugs are already on the market, but they are generally used for short-term weight loss and are aimed at the brain and appetite. They don't directly target metabolism.
Researchers can't guess how long it might take before a drug based on the new findings becomes available. But it's unlikely it would be a magic pill that would enable people to eat anything they want without packing on the pounds. And targeting this fat pathway could affect other things, so a treatment would need rigorous testing to prove safe and effective.
The gene glitch doesn't explain all obesity. It was found in 44 percent of Europeans but only 5 percent of blacks, so other genes clearly are at work, and food and exercise still matter.
Having the glitch doesn't destine you to become obese but may predispose you to it. People with two faulty copies of the gene (one from mom and one from dad) weighed an average of 7 pounds more than those without them. But some were obviously a lot heavier than that, and even 7 pounds can be the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy weight, said Manolis Kellis, a professor at MIT.
He and Claussnitzer are seeking a patent related to the work. It was done on people in Europe, Sweden and Norway, and funded by the German Research Center for Environmental Health and others, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Obesity affects more than 500 million people worldwide and contributes to a host of diseases. In the U.S., about one-third of adults are obese and another one-third are more modestly overweight.

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Armed with this new knowledge, what are the next steps to finding possible cures?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • arianad-sch
    8/28/2015 - 02:02 p.m.

    Wow, I wonder when the drug will come out? So, It can help 500 million people in the world who are suffering from the gene FTO.

    8/31/2015 - 08:23 a.m.

    The next step could be to test for side affects for the drug. The drug could a have a negative reaction in someones body especially if it is based off genetics. Another thing people could do to not even have an obesity problem is have better diets. The U.S. is one of the most obese countries. Part of this issue is due to our culture. The American culture allows for very bad foods to consumed in large amounts like McDonalds or Burger King. To conclude our culture allows obesity to thrive.

  • keairnesj-rei
    9/22/2015 - 03:47 p.m.

    This story can really open people's eyes to what there future holds if they aren't able to stay fit. If somebody isn't capable of eating healthy and exercising their body feeds off of the muscle in the body because it isn't getting enough protein and nutrients.

  • keairnesj-rei
    9/22/2015 - 03:51 p.m.

    This article can really open your eyes to what your future can hold. Obesity has taken over so many people of the world and can be fatal if not taken care of. If somebody isn't capable of eating healthy and exercising their body will start to eat the muscle because your body needs protein and nutrients.

  • benjaminc-day
    10/05/2015 - 01:06 p.m.

    Scientists have found that obesity may not be all about diet and exercise but a predisposed gene found in millions of people. This is a huge discovery because obesity affects millions of people around the world especially in America since we are one of the most obese countries in the world. A pill to reverse this gene can help up to 500 million people struggling with obesity. This gene is also found in higher amounts of Europeans than blacks which is still unexplained. I think this discovery can be a huge breakthrough because some people try to lose weight and can't and now we know why and can help people.

  • tonil-ofs
    10/21/2015 - 03:56 p.m.

    It's great that they are going to release a drug like that. Think about all the people that can be helped. A lot of people in our world, country, state, town and maybe even in our school suffer from obesity and sometimes it isn't even their fault. If this drug is released it will not only help prevent obesity it will help prevent other disease's as well. This is because so many other disease's such as sleep apnea, high blood pressure and even some cancer's are caused by obesity.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    3/12/2016 - 06:34 p.m.

    The scientists might have been able to find out what kind of gene can be able to make people fat but the gene doesn't fully tell that about the fat cells that scientists would be knowing more about. The scientists might have been looking for medications so that people who are obese would take the medication which would make the person to be getting skinny which people would get skinny. The people who are obese might want to take the medication that the scientists would soon make would soon make the person to become skinny and the fat cells would just burn the food. Scientists might have wanted to find a way that they would be able to get people to be skinny which scientists are finding a way that would make people to become skinny.
    Critical Thinking Question: Armed with this new knowledge, what are the next steps to finding possible cures?
    Answer: The next steps on finding the possible cures on making a person skinny is to take a fat cell from an obese person that would be able to become processed to become a cure.

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