Cancer Drug May Reduce Fat Mass Dramatically

fat_cells_drugSometimes, drugs or medical procedures that are known for one purpose, are found to be beneficial in treating other negative health conditions or diseases. In this case, a cancer drug  has shown early signs of potential in addressing obesity. Cancerous tumors grow collections of abnormal blood cells. These fuel the disease and keep the tumor growing. Researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center have discovered a cancer drug that works by inhibiting the growth of blood vessels –  may also work to curb obesity.  The new study in mice suggests that with obesity, the blood vessels in fat tissue could be acting similarly to the blood vessels in cancer, by fueling the fat.

In the early 2000’s, scientist Judah Folkman of Harvard Medical School discovered that fat tissue in mice can be regulated by angiogenesis inhibitors (drugs that restrain the growth of blood vessels). However, he had not furthered this line of research before his death in 2008. Building on Folkman’s work, the University of Mississippi researchers tested whether a drug called Sunitinib, which is already used to inhibit blood vessels in some cancer treatments, might also reduce fat.

Postmenopausal obese mice were given Sunitinib daily for two weeks either orally or through injections. They found that the mice who received the drug had an average loss of 70 percent fat mass. Their lean mass, however, was unchanged. The mice lost similar amounts of fat, regardless of whether they received Sunitinib orally or via injection. The researchers also noted that the appetites of the mice were reduced after the two week trial, which they say could be a side effect of losing the fat and the hormones it sends to the brain to stimulate food intake.

The study suggests that Sunitinib holds promise for reducing fat mass; however, as the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the findings are preliminary.  Additionally, more research would be needed before this drug can be tested in humans.

“Obesity in many ways is like a cancer–it is toxic,” said Dr. Val Andrei, weight loss surgeon in New Jersey. “If this trial can be duplicated in humans on a larger scale it can change the prevalence of obesity, as well as the outcome of those obese individuals who are suffering with additional health issues ranging from diabetes mellitus to hypertension and  hypercholesterolemia.” Dr Andrei concluded that getting rid of the deadly belly fat–while preserving  lean body tissue–is another step towards conquering obesity.

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Currently, there are only a few drugs approved in the United States to treat obesity, including Qsymia. Although they show promise in inducing some weight loss, barriers to widespread use include their ability to show relatively small amounts of weight loss, and some undesirable side effects. You can read about the struggle to get obesity drugs approved here.

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