Health Watch -- Anti-fat Treatment

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Could a medical anti-obesity treatment be on the horizon?

Obesity is a serious health issue in this country, so it's important that Americans learn to eat better and maintain a healthy weight, but researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas may have found another way to fight fat.

The researchers have managed to turn fat-storing cells into fat-burning cells. They found that increasing amounts of leptin - a protein involved in regulating body weight - increases the action of mitochondria in cells. Mitochondria serve as cells' energy source.

Dr. Roger Unger, the UT Southwestern researcher who led the study, said the leptin treatment turned fat-storing cells into an entirely different kind of cell that hasn't been seen before. In laboratory studies, overweight rats treated with leptin lost more weight - and lost it more rapidly - than rats that were fed a restricted diet. Rats on the leptin therapy were healthy, ate less and were more active, while rats on a restricted diet looked for more food and were less active. The rats on a diet also gained more weight once the restrictions were eased.

Doctors need to do more research on this before the fat-burning treatment becomes widely available, but Dr. Unger said he's hopeful that this could be a step toward solving the obesity epidemic.

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March 2004

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