— A simple medication that leads to weight loss with no dieting or exercise could be a big step toward every dieter's dream. The study is only in monkeys, but tests in people could begin shortly.
Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston gave monkeys a drug, a protein compound called adipotide, that targets the blood supply to fat cells and kills them. After only 28 daily injections of the drug the monkeys lost an average of 11 percent of their body weight.
The researchers, headed by the husband and wife team Wadih Arap and Renata Pasqualini, have been working on the project for years. In 2004 the research team proved the drug could bring substantial weight loss in mice. Now, after the highly successful results in monkeys, they have applied for FDA approval to begin trials in people, possibly within a year.
"It is incredibly exciting, a dream coming true in slow motion,” says Arap.
In the results reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the scientists did not use monkeys that were made genetically obese or forced to become fat in some other way. They chose the animals in the colony that tended to eat more and exercise less. They were “couch potatoes” of the simian colony as Kirstin Barnhart, another of the researchers put it.
"Within a few weeks of administering the drug it became clear to us that the efficacy we had seen in rodents was being transplanted to monkeys," Barnhart said. "They were getting their waistlines back so we were staring to see the effect. It was such an important milestone for the drug."
MRIs confirmed that the weight loss was the result of shedding the so-called "white" body fat that most humans need to lose and is linked to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It was not water, muscle, or some other essential tissue in the body.
Careful examination did reveal a slight, reversible kidney changes that will need to be monitored carefully in the human trials.
After 28 days on the drug, the monkeys maintained their weight loss for about two weeks, but once they went back into the colony and resumed their slothful overeating ways, the weight returned.
If the drug were to prove successful in humans it would never be permanent solution, experts say. It would be a kick-start used along with future diet and exercise.
"How energizing would it be to lose 11 percent that first month," said Barnhart “That’s going to really get you focused.”
How great is the desire for the drug? Despite explaining all the limitations of the research, the scientists say they always get the same question: " 'When it is it going to be ready, 'cause I want some,' says Pasqualini.
The answer, of course, is that lots of unpredictable research still lies ahead.