Scientists are one step closer to developing the holy grail of weight loss drugs – a pill that makes users lose weight without dieting or exercising.
They tested an early version of the treatment – currently as an injectable – on mice placed on a junk food plan that mimics the worst of Western diets.
The mice who were given the shot did not gain weight even though they were eating foods high in fat, sugar and calories, while their risk of health problems associated with a poor diet also decreased.
The drug’s makers, from the University of Texas, told DailyMail.com today that they are developing a pill version of the drug and hope to begin human trials this year.
The drug – named CPACC – is a small molecule that works by preventing the absorption of magnesium by mitochondria in cells.
The team is now working to patent the drug, but warns it could be years before it reaches pharmacies.
Dr Madesh Muniswamy, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio who led the research, told DailyMail.com: ‘Our next step is to do some pharmacokinetics before the human pilot study.
‘We have seen no adverse effects. In particular, liver and heart functions were normal after administering the drug twice a week by injection.
‘We are looking for volunteers and private funding to carry out such trials. But it will be in the next six months to a year.’
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Questions are already being asked about whether the drug is really a ‘game-changer’.
Rats eating a high-fat western diet were given the ‘wonder drug’ once every three days for six weeks.
As well as maintaining their weight, the researchers also suggested that the mice may have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and fatty liver disease.
They say this is because the drug prevents obesity, which is a major risk factor for these conditions.
Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells and work by producing energy to drive their chemical reactions.
An important part of this process is magnesium, which helps to reduce damage to mitochondria and drive their energy-producing reactions.
But researchers say that when there are too many elements in cells it can actually ‘put the brakes on’ energy production.
To test whether reducing mitochondrial magnesium levels could cause weight loss, the researchers first gene-edited mice to make it harder for the mitochondria to take up magnesium.
They found that even when the tweaked mice were on a high-fat western diet they remained slim.
To mimic this result, the researchers designed a drug that could block the absorption of magnesium by the mitochondria.
In the latest study, published in Cell Reportsmice were fed a high-fat western diet (consisting of 40 percent fat) or a chow diet (17 percent fat).
After 20 weeks on the diet, the mice were given either the drug or a placebo.
These are given every three days for another six weeks.
The results showed that the mice that got the injections did not gain weight even while on a high-fat western diet.
Dr Muniswamy said that reducing the amount of magnesium in the mitochondria took the brakes off them.
This means they are able to produce and, therefore, burn more energy, which helps them avoid weight gain.
‘They’re all getting slim,’ he said.
‘A drug that could reduce the risk of cardiometabolic diseases such as heart attack and stroke, and also reduce the incidence of liver cancer, which can follow fatty liver disease, would have a big impact.
‘We will continue to develop it.’
OBESITY: ADULTS WITH A BMI OVER 30 ARE CONSIDERED OBESOUS
Obesity is defined as an adult with a BMI of 30 or more.
The BMI of a healthy person – calculated by dividing the weight in kg by the height in meters, and the answer to the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
In children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.
Percentages compare young people to others their same age.
For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means 40 percent of three-month-olds are the same or less than that baby.
Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.
The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its estimated £124.7 billion budget, every year.
This is because obesity increases a person’s risk of several life-threatening conditions.
Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even amputation.
Research suggests that at least one in six UK hospital beds is taken up by a diabetes patient.
Obesity also increases the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.
Carrying a dangerous amount of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers.
This includes the breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.
Among children, research suggests that 70 percent of obese teens have high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.
Obese children are more likely to become obese adults.
And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often worse.
Up to one in five children start school in the UK overweight or obese, rising to one in three by the time they turn 10.