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Discovery May Lead to Better Obesity and Diabetes Treatments

Sept. 22, 2003 -- Imagine a pill that gives you the metabolism of an elite athlete and lets you eat as much as you want without losing your lean physique.

A new study shows that dream may one day come true, thanks to a new discovery about a natural protein produced by the body.

Researchers found that mice that produce too much of the protein, called PGC-1beta, can eat more food without gaining weight because they naturally burn more calories than normal mice. The mice also were able to maintain healthy insulin levels despite eating a high-fat diet.

If they can just translate those findings to humans, researchers say they might be able to develop new obesity and diabetes treatments that target the protein.

From Lean Mice to Thin Humans?

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers bred a group of six laboratory mice that produced higher-than-normal levels of the protein PGC-1beta. The mice ate as much as they wanted of a high-fat diet, and researchers measured their food intake and weight each week and compared it with a group of normal mice.

Researchers found that the PGC-1beta mice weighed 15%-25% less than the other mice even though they ate significantly more food. They also accumulated less belly fat, an area associated with an increased risk of heart disease in humans.

In addition, the experimental mice were able to maintain healthier insulin levels despite their high-calorie diet. Maintaining healthy insulin levels reduces the risk of developing diabetes, which is commonly associated with obesity.

Researcher Yasutomi Kamei, of Osaka Bioscience Institute in Japan, and colleagues say that the PGC-1beta mice were able to fight fat and lower their diabetes risks because the protein increased the total number of calories they burned by up to 30%.

They say that developing obesity and diabetes treatments that target this protein may prove effective in humans but much more research is needed.

SOURCE: Kamei, Y. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online early edition, Sept. 22, 2003.

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