Scientists stick it to blubber: kilos drop off with one jab
Injection that mimics gastric bypass surgery is hailed as the most exciting weight-loss treatment yet
An injection that helps people lose more than 6kg in just four weeks has been developed by British scientists in a breakthrough hailed as the most exciting treatment yet found for tackling obesity.
Scientists at Imperial College are completing human trials into the treatment but confirmed that patients naturally ate 30% less food after being treated with the hormone injection which mimics the effect of a gastric bypass surgery.
The injection was so successful that some patients were able to come off diabetes medication.
Lead researcher Professor Sir Steve Bloom, head of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism at Imperial, said he hoped to create a therapy within five years that was as effective as bariatric surgery, but could be administered as a small, painless monthly injection.
His team is due to publish its research in a medical journal shortly.
“It is going to be the most exciting agent for improving health that has yet been discovered,” Bloom said. “Obesity has become a tremendous burden on our society. The whole of our society is overweight. It increases your risk of cancer. Your chances of heart disease and stroke increase with obesity. If you are arthritic, it is worse. Almost everything is worse.“We are living longer and longer, but that process has come to a halt because we are killing ourselves with obesity. It’s a very serious problem, yet just telling people to eat less and to exercise more doesn’t work.”Initially it was thought that gastric bypass surgery worked by reducing the amount of food held in the stomach. But patients were found to have elevated levels of satiety hormones, the chemical signals released by the gut to control digestion and hunger cravings in the brain.
Patients who had gastric bypass surgery also began to prefer less fatty foods, suggesting the hormones were also altering cravings. The new therapy reproduces those hormones, mirroring the effect, without the need for surgery.
And unlike surgery, doctors would also be able to vary the dose so that it could be used not only by the obese but also those who just want to control their diet, said Bloom.
The Imperial trial involved 20 patients who took a cocktail of three hormones through a patch and a pump for 28 days and saw weight losses of between 1.8kg and 7.6kg, almost as good as results from surgery.
“While wearing the pump, you feel less hungry and you stop eating earlier,” said Professor Tricia Tan, a consultant in diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic medicine at Imperial, who formulated the hormones.“The sensation is like after you have eaten a big meal and you feel really full. What is even more exciting is that we are able to normalise blood sugar levels and they can come off diabetes medications.”
James Hopkins, 38, an operations manager in supported living care services, was recommended for the trial at Imperial by his GP after an eight-year battle to control his weight after contracting meningitis.
He said the effects were immediate as he went on to lose nearly 6.3kg in just 28 days: “It was an almost instant reaction to it without feeling anything. There is an uncanny reaction the first time you go to eat or drink something; you feel full within a few bites.“When you are overweight, you generally wake up and feel sluggish and lose energy quickly when you walk. With the hormones I ended up feeling I could walk any distance. There was no task in the day that was going to get me down.”
It had also made sweet food less attractive: “I was aware of the attraction to sugary things being reduced. Even if you have fresh fruit like a golden delicious, which is a sweet apple, it’s not appealing at all.”
About 58% of women and 68% of men are classed as overweight or obese in Britain, raising the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and other weight-related illness.
Bloom said they believed they could improve the balance of hormones so that it was as effective as bariatric surgery, which carries a 0.5% risk of death.
“The hormones are mimicking our physiology,” added Bloom. “It’s not likely, therefore, to do you any harm. We feel reasonably confident this will be a safe medication.
“The big driver of ours is that we can adjust the doses. We can tailor it to people’s needs. People who don’t want to get too thin can adjust it.“I can see this as a major medication and it could be a drug to make you look good rather than because you need it medically.”
Bloom admitted that, at the age of 75, he was excited by the prospect of developing a treatment that could have such an impact on obesity and its related diseases – and by the prospect of a British university beating big pharma to a solution for excess weight.
Commenting on the research, Tam Fry, chairperson of the National Obesity Forum, said: “A successful outcome to Bloom’s work has been eagerly anticipated. The obese have been starved of new and effective medication for years. This might be it.”
– © The Daily Telegraph