Scientists at Harvard University have created a way of screening potential drugs that turn white fat cells – which are "bad" – into the brown fat cells that are healthier. They have already identified two compounds that work on human cells growing in the laboratory.
Researchers believe it may be possible to lower the levels of white fat, which is linked with diabetes and heart disease, by increasing the proportion of brown fat, which burns off excess energy. It could lead to a “pill that can replace the treadmill” for the control of obesity, they said.
Meanwhile, Imperial College researchers in London have identified an enzyme that drives the craving for sugar in the brain’s hypothalamus, which regulates food intake. The scientists believe the enzyme, called glucokinase, could be a viable target for an anti-obesity drug.
“This is the first time anyone has discovered a system in the brain that responds to a specific nutrient, rather than energy intake in general. It suggests that when you’re thinking about diet, you have to think about different nutrients, not just count calories,” said James Gardiner of Imperial College, who led the study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Tests on rats showed that boosting the activity of the enzyme within the brain caused the animals to consume more glucose in preference to normal food. A drug targeting glucokinase or its metabolic pathway could potentially prevent obesity by lowering the desire for sugary foods, the scientists suggest.