Researchers Curb Appetites of Rats: Press Research on Whether Gene Therapy Can Fight Obesity

Article excerpt

Since the discovery of a "fat gene" five years ago, a team of scientists at the University of Florida has been conducting research to determine whether gene-replacement therapy could be an effective treatment for obesity.

So far, studies have been limited to rodents. The Florida investigators announced at a meeting this month that they have used gene therapy successfully to control appetite and weight in both overweight and normal-weight rats and mice.

"The findings are encouraging . . . and testing in humans is not that many years away," says Dr. Satya Kalra, a professor of neuroscience in the Brain Institute at Florida's College of Medicine.

He and a fellow researcher, Dr. Sergei Zolotukhin, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at UF's College of Medicine, say their work holds promise that a single injection of genes may someday be a viable - even routine - option for treating obesity.

"This would be the couch potato's dream. You can eat what you want but stay lean," said Dr. Zolotukhin.

Dr. Kalra goes so far as to say gene therapy just might be a "magic bullet," at least for those whose obesity is related to leptin, a protein produced by the obesity gene, ob, which was first identified in 1994.

"Gene therapy is being used [as a treatment] for all kinds of diseases - metabolic as well as neurologic - wherever there's a defective gene," he said in a telephone interview.

Dr. Zolotukhin believes it is important to find out if gene therapy can treat obesity. "Obesity is the number one risk factor for a lot of diseases," he said.

But he noted that "obesity is not considered a high-priority disorder in gene therapy. …