The dramatic rise in the number of people classified as obese in recent years-rates have risen from 12 to 20% of the population since 1991 - has turned the search for an anti-fat pill from a cosmetic endeavor to a public health necessity. Health problems associated with obesity include type-1 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a shortened life expectancy.
Obesity occurs when the body's calorific intake consistently exceeds its needs. One way in which the body tries to regulate food intake is by pancreatic release of the hormone insulin, which enables cells to convert blood glucose from food into molecular energy. Direct injection of insulin into the brain reduces food intake and body weight.
Based on the idea that insulin is able to regulate the body's energy distribution and calorific use, Bei Zhang and colleagues at Merck Research Laboratories tested the effects of drugs that mimic insulin on rats (Nature Medicine, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 179, 1 Feb 02). The rats became obese after being fed a high fat diet. However, treatment with the insulin mimics reduced food intake and weight gain and, unlike insulin itself, the drugs can be administered orally. If these compounds are safe and effective in humans, they may become frontline medicines in the battle against obesity.
Dr. Bei B. Zhang
Department of Molecular Endocrinology and Metabolic Disorders
Merck Research Laboratories
Rahway, New Jersey, USA
Tel: +1 732 594 1926
Fax: +1 732 594 1169
(C) Nature Medicine press release.
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