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. It is a major discovery. It 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 did not know how. They 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. That gives 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. The results were 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." It gives a third explanation or factor that is involved.
 
Independent experts praised the discovery.
 
"It is a big deal," said Dr. Clifford Rosen. He is a scientist at Maine Medical Center Research Institute. He also is 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. They are generally used for short-term weight loss and are aimed at the brain and appetite. They do not directly target metabolism.
 
Researchers can not guess how long it might take before a drug based on the new findings becomes available. But it is 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 thorough testing to prove safe and effective.
 
The gene glitch does not 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 does not destine you to become obese. But it 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. He is 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. The research was 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. Another one-third are more modestly overweight.

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


COMMENTS (19)
  • laurenc-bag
    9/09/2015 - 06:13 p.m.

    The next steps to finding possible cures are to study more about fat cells and how to reverse the effects of having the PTO gene, and more tests and experiments. When it comes to something serious like this, you need to be certain that what you are doing is right.

  • lilym-1-bag
    9/09/2015 - 11:33 p.m.

    its a good thing that they found out what the cause is to being fat but if they make a medicine for it, it might be hazardes and unsafe.

  • student3-tho
    9/11/2015 - 03:49 p.m.

    I think story is great because it tells you ways you can weight.

  • irshadh-lam
    9/23/2015 - 10:42 a.m.

    I think the reason that it may be more present in certain races or ethnic groups than others is possibly due to the fact that it began in certain places, and spread to others, but it the population of the ethnic group in the area it began in would have a much higher amount of that gene than people in other areas. For example, more first-world countries are in Europe and suffer from obesity more than developing countries, which would make sense if a higher number of people in the first-world countries have the gene than those in the developing world.

  • ravend-bag
    9/27/2015 - 11:04 p.m.

    They will probably make a cure that effects the genes so the yucky genes will go away.

  • student10-tho
    10/05/2015 - 02:54 p.m.

    i love this story

    • student3-tho
      10/05/2015 - 02:57 p.m.

      i agree with u

  • melissag2-sch
    1/19/2017 - 04:14 p.m.

    I think this is a healthy pursuit because this can help people with obesity.If this works then people with obesity will not have it anymore and once again live a happy healthy life. Obesity affects a lot of people and they become unhappy of their life. Obesity affects more than 500 million people worldwide and contributes to a host of diseases

  • lbaer-wim5
    2/22/2018 - 01:06 p.m.

    I think that this new discovery in obesity can change our society's health. Our immune systems don't know how to react to unhealthy foods, so the fat is stored in our bodies which causes people to become obese. Unfortunately, today we sometimes don't know what chemicals we are actually putting in our body. That's why scientist have discovered a new pill that can turn any processed food into energy our bodies can use!

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