A Drug to Treat Both Obesity and Malnutrition?

The results of new research could have life-changing effects on people suffering from the complications of obesity or malnutrition. Published in the journal Structure, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK has defined the structure of an essential part of the human obesity receptor, which is a key factor in body fat regulation. The researchers solved the challenging crystal structure of the leptin-binding domain of the obesity receptor using a technique called X-ray crystallography. Leptin is known as the obesity hormone and is produced by fat. Excess leptin puts overweight people at higher risk for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, heart disease and cancer. On the other hand, leptin deficiency occurs with malnutrition, resulting in health issues such as infertility and immunodeficiency. By blocking this receptor, and therefore the excessive actions of leptin, complications of obesity could be prevented, while stimulating the receptor might enhance fertility and the immune response, in the case of deficiency. By knowing the precise atomic structure of the receptor, drug molecules can be designed to alter its activity.

The findings of this study greatly enhance the potential to generate drugs which can both block and stimulate the receptor for the obesity hormone leptin. ┬áIt is an exciting prospect, as the United States has not had an obesity drug approved by the FDA in more than 13 years. In the past year, the weight loss drug QNEXA, a low-dose combination of phentermine and topiramate, has had good traction with the FDA; however last month the FDA decided that it will be pushing back its decision on whether to approve the weight loss drug until July 17, 2012. The FDA’s original deadline was April 17, 2012. You can read more about the decision to approve QNEXA here.

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