January 14, 2012

A way to simulate the hormonal response of exercise

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Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a pill that convinces your body that you’ve exercised? It sounds too good to be true – caveat emptor. But researchers are trying to develop a way to evoke the hormonal response of exercise.

A way to burns fat without exercise may be exactly why some people might take this type of pill. But, in fact, the scientific finding was developed with a therapeutic intention. This is not a designer diet pill. This is a collaborative effort by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

The Harvard University researchers have isolated a muscle cell hormone, elevated during exercise, that triggers the health benefits of exercise and weight loss. In theory, this type of finding could compel a treatment option  for obesity, type 2 diabetes and other disorders that improve with exercise.

The miraculous hormone was named “irisin” after Iris, the ancient Greek goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the gods.The powerful effects of irisin target white fat and enhance brown fat. White fat stores energy while brown fat burns energy. Irisin triggers changes to white fat that makes them resemble brown fat and increase energy expenditure.

After a 10 day trial where obese, pre-diabetic mice were injected with small amounts of irisin – the mice were shown to have lost weight, increased energy expenditure, and improvements in insulin resistance.

Usually mouse trials do not successfully translate into human efficacy. However, the mouse and human forms of the protein are identical and an irisin-based drug could happen within 2 years.

Ember Therapeutics has already licensed the technology. The company is using this breakthroughs to develop a new generation of safe and effective treatments for type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Some opinions on this finding are being met with skepticism. This type of treatment would be ill-suited for people who can exercise but choose not to do so. But imagine the gains it could provide people who are unable to exercise (paralyzed or injured individuals). Also, if this finding can safely diverge millions of people from developing type 2 diabetes by enhancing their insulin sensitivity and increasing their metabolism – a drug like this might be feasible worldwide.

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