Monday, September 1, 2008

Be Hungry and Multiply!

While you're eating, drinking and being merry this Labor Day, here's something for you to chew on: Scientists at the Salk Institute in San Diego have discovered what they call a "master switch" that controls hunger and reproduction.

Okay, it was in mice, but the same structure is probably present in humans. And that could lead to new treatments for weight disorders and infertility.

Here's an excerpt from my article, in the (San Diego) North County Times:

The master switch, called TORC1, is regulated by leptin, a hormone that tells the brain enough food has been consumed. Leptin is made from adipose, or fat cells. Mice lacking leptin became overweight, according a 1995 study that caused great excitement in the scientific community.

Biotech giant Amgen Inc. of Thousand Oaks licensed the discovery for $20 million from Rockefeller University, and tested a leptin-derived drug as an obesity treatment. However, the leptin drug had a relatively minor effect in humans, so Amgen discontinued testing.

It's since been discovered that leptin is part of a complex set of regulatory mechanisms that govern appetite and obesity. So researchers think any one drug alone is not going to be sufficient to regulate weight and appetite.

San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals says it has made progress in understanding how the appetite and metabolic mechanisms work together. Amylin licensed the rights to the leptin drug from Amgen, and is now testing it in human clinical trials in combination with pramlintide, a drug it developed on its own.

Pramlintide is derived from amylin, a hormone that acts with insulin to control blood sugar and weight control. Pramlintide and leptin given together to rats produce greater weight loss than would be expected from the combination of their individual effects, according to a paper by Amylin researchers published in the July 31 issue of the journal Endocrinology.

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