A Diet Pill That Rewires Your Brain to Control Your Appetite
Scientists are on their way to curing obesity. They have discovered how to rewire appetite control in the brain. This research could shift the ever increasing burden obesity has on the public’s health and the NHS, which the annual burden is estimated at more than £50 billion.
Obesity has increased from 58% to 65% in men and 49% to 58% in women between 1993 and 2011. Not only does obesity affect adults in 2011 it was found that 3 in 10 boys and girls aged between 2 to15 years old were classed either overweight or obese. More figures can be found in the Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England, 2013 report. Obesity results in thousands of deaths and illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even cancer. Therefore, this discovery could not have come at a better time.
Studies by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), which is ranked in the top 1% of Higher Education institutions in the world, have discovered that appetite isn’t fixed from birth. It was originally thought that the nerve cells in the brain that are associated with appetite regulation were generated solely during an embryo’s development in the womb and couldn’t be altered. But the UEA’s research published in the Journal of Neuroscience has found cells called Tanycytes, which act like stem cells, in the brains of young and adult rodents show that appetite can in fact be modified.
The scientists studied the hypothalamus section of the brain. It is this section of the brain that regulates sleep, food and water intake and body control plus many other important biological functions. They looked closely at the nerve cells that regulate appetite using linear tracing, which is a genetic fate mapping technique, it was found that some cells added neurons to the appetite regulating circuitry of the rodent’s brain after birth and into adulthood.
However there isn’t one single solution to controlling appetite, Dr. Mohammad Hajihosseini who is the lead researcher as well as a senior lecturer at the University says that any solution to obesity must first focus on the part of the brain that controls it. He also believes that this discovery could offer a permanent solution to obesity, but it would take from 5 to 10 years to translate the findings to humans.
Before any transition to humans there is more research needed to go into the discovery. Dr. Hajihosseini said, “The next step is to define the group of genes and cellular processes that regulate the behaviour and activity of tanycytes.”
“This information will further our understanding of brain stem cells and could be exploited to develop drugs that can modulate the number of functioning of appetite-regulating neurons.”
Even though their research is at the early stages, they have already started looking into how these cells could be manipulated in the fight against obesity. The team is especially interested in looking closely at the Fibroblast growth factor 10 (Fgf10) gene, and using it as bait to work out exactly what it does. They want to know, how does it work? Does it form part of a network of genes responsible for regulating these cells? To find out these answers they will need to use a technique called Micro-array gene profiling which will allow them to find the cohort of genes operating across the cell type. They plan to mostly work with the Fgf10 gene but there are others that may be of use.
Dr. Hajihosseini also believes that with continual work, the research will be able to work for anorexic suffers. While the pill will encourage a person with obesity to eat less a person with anorexia will be encouraged to eat more, but for now tackling obesity is the teams’ first goal.
So could obesity and even anorexia be a thing of the past? Will we all be healthy in weight thanks to a little pill? Time will tell but for now exercise and a healthy diet is still on the cards.
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