January 5, 1996
Web posted at: 7 p.m. EST
ATLANTA (CNN) -- A substance found in the brains of mammals does a great job helping rats lose weight. Now the question is, can it do the same for humans?
In a study published in this week's British journal Nature, researchers said the substance, "glucagon-like peptide 1" or GLP-1, when injected into the brains of rates, caused them to eat as much as 95 percent less even after they had not eaten for 24 hours, said researcher Dr. Stephen Bloom.
They said a pill that can be used for human tests might be ready within two years.
GLP-1 and the brain-cell structures it works on are found in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, the region that regulates appetite and other basic behavior. It is found in small amounts in the brain of humans as well, so Bloom, a professor of endocrinology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London, said it is safe to assume it would act the same in humans as it does in rats.
Rats injected with GLP-1 "behaved like any animal does after it has a meal," Bloom said. "It gets sleepy, it grooms itself, it doesn't move around so much."
The study could be good news for the diet industry, which already pulls in $33 billion each year on products and services that promise to help people drop those pounds.
In order to turn the GLP-1 study into a pill for people, researchers first might develop a substance that acts like GLP-1 but can reach the brain after being swallowed.
Scientists also said another way may be to devise a drug that slows the natural breakdown of GLP-1 so that its action is prolonged. Bloom said such a drug would only be effective if a person already is full and already has the GLP-1 signal.
Researcher Dr. Arthur Frank of George Washington University said the study could lead to creation of the strongest appetite suppresser yet. "It gives us a lot of information . It gives us a lot of insight. It gives us a lot more of an opportunity to start to get that regulating process so that we can start affecting the regulating process in a therapeutic way," he said.
Bloom added that experts plan to study GLP-1's relationship to the newly discovered substance leptin. Leptin is another signaler of satiety and is created by fat cells to act on the brain. Researchers will try to see whether leptin does its job by turning on production of GLP-1 in the brain.
Any new diet drug would join two FDA-approved drugs used to treat obesity by prescription only. They are Fenfluramine and Phentermine, in a combination called Fen-Phen.
A drug widely used in Europe, Dexfenfluramine, is pending FDA review. It increases the levels of serotonin, the brain chemical that makes a person feel full.
Judith Stern of the American Obesity Association is in favor of any drug that helps a person keep food out of his or her mouth. "We want health professionals to have more options to treat the obese patient whose obesity places her or him at the increased risk for disease," she said.
But while drug companies are spending millions to find a way to lessen people's loads, dietitians such as Chris Rosenbloom of the American Dietetic Association warn that any search for a magic pill to control weight will have to take into account the reasons -- often based in emotions -- one-third of Americans overeat are more important than thinking a magic pill will control their weight. (213K AIFF sound or 213K WAV sound)
And researcher Dr. Arthur Frank basically concurred, saying there will be no guaranteed way to end obesity, no matter how effective an appetite suppresser is. (128K AIFF sound or 128K WAV sound)
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