Researchers in Britain may have found a way to take the hard work out of weight loss by replacing a rigorous workout with a pill.
Scientists at the University of Southampton have developed a molecule that mimics the benefits of exercise by manipulating the metabolic process and it also appears to have potential for treating type 2 diabetes.
The new molecule, dubbed “Compound 14”, was initially developed to target an energy receptor called AMPK that works at a cellular level. Past research had led the scientists to believe it may be possible to activate AMPK by using a small molecule that mimicked the effects of exercise and that, if this proved to be true, the cells’ ability to absorb oxygen and glucose would be increased.
Compound 14 can apparently achieve this by impeding the normal function a cellular enzyme, called ATIC, that is important to the metabolic process.
When the abilities of ATTIC are supressed in this way another important molecule, called ZMP, begins to accumulate within the cells and this build-up fools the cells into thinking energy levels are becoming depleted. This, in turn, causes the energy sensor, AMPK, to spring into action and encourage the cells to intensify glucose uptake and metabolism.
Initial testing involved two groups of laboratory mice. Once group was fed a normal diet, but the other received foods that were loaded with so much fat it caused them to become obese. They also became intolerant to glucose (one of the first indications of diabetes).
After the first group of mice became sufficiently obese both groups were given Compound 14. Exposure to the molecule had no noticeable effect on either the weight or the blood glucose levels of the non-obese mice, but the effects on the obese group were dramatic.
The first dose of Compound 14 brought the obese rodents’ blood glucose levels down to near-normal levels. The treatment was then continued for a further six days and the obese mice attained an improved tolerance to glucose that was accompanied by a 5% drop in bodyweight. The non-obese mice showed no change in blood glucose or body weight.
The new molecule has yet to be tested on humans, but if future tests show it can exert a similar effect on human cells, and manipulate glucose levels and metabolism in the same way, Compound 14 could change a lot of lives for the better.
A report published by The Daily Mail points out more people die from obesity-related issues in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. Many Brits are happy to admit they don’t go out of their way to get more exercise and even childhood obesity is on the rise.
With so many people unwilling to make a change for the better, and many of those who are willing to do so trying and failing to lose weight, a pill that could tip the scales in their favour could be just what the doctor ordered.
Diabetes is also a big problem in Britain—one that drains a lot of NHS money that could be used elsewhere—so Compound 14 (if it proves to be effective on humans) has the potential to do a lot of good.
However, before any new “Wonder Drug” can be developed and made available for use, the researchers will not only need to prove Compound 14 is effective for human use; they will also need to provide evidence that proves it does not present any undue risks to the health.
If future tests, conducted on humans, do indicate the molecule has benefits to offer people who are obese or suffering from diabetes, and side effects are apparent, products containing Compound 14 are unlikely to become available as an over-the-counter weight loss option. But if the side effects are deemed to present less of a health risk that the complications associated with obesity it is feasible that the molecule may be have value as a prescription-only option, that can be used under the supervision of a doctor, in a similar manner to the appetite suppressing drug Phentermine. It is far too early to say what the future may hold, but Compound 14 certainly has a lot of promise.