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Metabolic Master Switch Found through Obesity Research

Dr. Ranjini
Dr. Ranjini
September02/ 2015

Obesity- the silent killer is now recognized as one of the world’s topmost public health problem affecting almost 1.5 billion people who are either overweight or obese. India stands third after US and China in the list of top countries affected by obesity according to a study published in the journal Lancet. Who would have thought that a country that is often tagged with the word “poor” and “poverty” would rank among top three!

Obesity is defined as a condition where there is excess accumulation of fat there by posing several health impairments. According to WHO at least 2.8 million people die every year as a result of either been overweight or obese.

Obesity leads to several potential fatal illnesses like cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. What is even more staggering is the fact that it currently affects almost 200 million school going children with predictions made that they may be the first generation to have shorter lifespans than their parents! (worldobesity.org).The most common method of measuring obesity is through BMI or body mass index.

A BMI of 25–29.9 kg/m2 signifies pre-obesity whereasa BMI >30 kg/m2 defines obesity (WHO). Obesity is not only reaching pandemic levels across the world but also the cost associated with it is sky-rocketing. In US alone the direct and indirect costs of obesity amounts to $200 Billion each year. Considering these numbers recent research on obesity comes as a breakthrough in treating this silent killer.

According to a study led by researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School a new approach may be found that could treat and perhaps cure Obesity. The researchers have found a pathway that could control body’s metabolism and make the fat cells or adipocytes to store or burn fat. Aka they have found the master switch that turn on or off the metabolism of the body.

According to senior author ManolisKellis, a professor of computer science and a member of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and of the Broad Institute, the role of genetics in individual’s metabolism is overlooked when viewing obesity traditionally. Often lack of exercise or excessive eating is told to be the cause for obesity.

The researchers used annotations of genomic control switches across more than 100 tissues and cell types to find the cell types where the obesity-associated region may act. This study has allowed the researchers to find a major switchboard in the fat cells that suggests the link between genetic differences and the functioning of human fat stores.

Having found this pathway. the researchers suggested that by manipulating this pathway the effects of obesity could be reversed. This manipulation was further shown positively in mouse models. Currently they are in talks with industry and academia to translate their study findings to obesity treatment. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on August 19t,2015.

This study makes a quantum leap during a time when obesity prevalence and costs are rising rapidly.

Dr. Ranjini
Dr. Ranjini

Dr.Ranjini is a Bangalore based health professional and MBA holder. She currently works as consultant for Xpedient Digital Media in the areas of market research, business development and healthcare marketing. Her experience includes working with pharmaceutical and media companies in India and USA.

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