Study raises hope for obesity treatment

Tue Jan 6, 2009 6:53pm EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. researchers may have found an obesity treatment that unlocks the fat-fighting promise of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone once hailed as the answer to the battle of the bulge.

The problem with leptin is that it loses its power in obese people, but a team at Harvard Medical School may have found a way around that problem, they reported on Tuesday.

They said fat mice treated with two drugs already approved for use in humans overcame leptin resistance, raising hopes once again for leptin as a treatment for obesity.

"We are very excited to see what will happen in humans," said Dr. Umut Ozcan of Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, whose study appears in the journal Cell Metabolism.

"If it works, this can be a treatment for obesity," Ozcan said in a telephone interview.

The discovery of leptin in 1995 raised hopes for a natural weight loss tonic. Obese mice that lacked leptin lost weight on the stuff. But in obese humans, leptin only brought temporary success.

Ozcan said most people who are obese develop leptin resistance, in which the brain stops responding to the hormone's message to stop eating.

His team found that brain cells of obese mice have increased stress in the endoplasmic reticulum or ER -- a structure within the cells where proteins are assembled.   Continued...