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There is no denying that the desire to lose weight and keep it off is a dominant obsession in western societies.
The emphasis on being fit, often correlated with being skinny, feeds a gigantic weight loss industry.
In the US alone, a 2016 Marketdata report found that the weight loss market had risen to a record $66 billion. Now, a novel new study may soon bring a one-stop weight management solution that would forever obliterate all the rest.
The research may one day see a novel approach come to life that may allow people to eat as much as they want without gaining weight. The key lies in the discovery of a single gene known as RCAN1.
RCAN1 in humans
Researchers at Flinders University found that when the gene was removed in mice, the rodents failed to gain weight despite being fed a high-fat diet for prolonged periods. Now, the team behind the find are hoping that inhibiting the gene in humans will produce similar results, allowing for an effective treatment against obesity and weight-related diseases such as diabetes.
"We know a lot of people struggle to lose weight or even control their weight for a number of different reasons. The findings in this study could mean developing a pill which would target the function of RCAN1 and may result in weight loss," said study lead Professor Damien Keating of Flinders University.
Brown and white fat
The research is based on the fact that there are two types of fat in the human body. Our brown fat is healthy and used to burn energy, while our white fat is the troublesome kind that stores energy.
But it turns out that blocking RCAN1 helps to transform unhealthy white fat into healthy brown fat, providing a true solution to unwanted weight gain. "We have already developed a series of drugs that target the protein that this gene makes, and we are now in the process of testing them to see if they inhibit RCAN1 and whether they might represent potential new anti-obesity drugs," further added Keating.
"In light of our results, the drugs we are developing to target RCAN1 would burn more calories while people are resting. It means the body would store less fat without the need for a person to reduce food consumption or exercise more."
Best of all, the studies showed that inhibiting the gene had similar positive effects regardless of the test subjects' diets. "We looked at a variety of different diets with various timespans from eight weeks up to six months, and in every case we saw health improvements in the absence of the RCAN1 gene," explained Keating.
Now, Keating and his team are on a mission to discover if the gene could play the same role in human anatomy. And luckily for mankind, they have the support to do it.
"We really want to pursue this, it's exciting and we have research funding from the Australian government through the National Health and Medical Research Council to continue to explore viable options. These results show we can potentially make a real difference in the fight again obesity," concluded Keating.
The study is published in EMBOreports.