UW Researchers Created a Mouse that Can Eat Fat and Still Lose Weight--But Can the Results Be Transferred to Humans?

By Jon Marmor

Far and wide, people put down their carrot and celery sticks. Folks at Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, Diet Center and eat-nothing-but-pineapple-and-blue-algae meetings stuck their heads up like meerkats. Earthshaking news was out and you could just taste the excitement.

Even those folks who didn't stuff themselves with fen-phen or UltraSlim Fast had to pay attention to this.

A little mouse living in a cage in the K-Wing of the University of Washington's Warren G. Maguson Health Sciences Center had done the equivalent of man walking on the moon: he had eaten a high-fat diet--and lost weight. What caught everyone's attention was that this little fellow was genetically designed by UW researchers. In other words, science made a living, breathing creature who could chug Ding Dongs and not get fat.

Everyone just had to know: could they do that for me?

By the time the year 2005 rolls around, the answer may be yes.

Despite its rap as being a narcissistic trip, weight control is a huge medical problem in this country. According to the National Institutes of Health, half the people living in the United States are overweight, and one-third are clinically obese (weighing 20 percent more than they should). More than 300,000 people die of obesity-related disorders every year. No wonder we Americans fork over more than $30 billion a year on a smorgasbord of weight-loss endeavors.

This breakthrough--and others in the weight-loss world--are sure to start a feeding frenzy among drug companies to develop a pill that in humans will replicate what the UW researchers did with that little mouse. Only recently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first weight-loss drug in 20 years when it gave the stamp of approval to Redux. (Amphetamine, approved in 1952, was the first FDA-approved weight-loss drug.) Appetite suppressants have been with us even before Richard Simmons, and lately people have been gobbling up Redux and another new drug--fenfluramine hydrochloride, aka fen-phen--in hopes they will make the pounds go poof. Redux is said to create chemical changes in the brain that help combat emotional bingeing. Fen-phen, one of the top 10 fastest-growing prescriptions in 1996 (7.3 million sold last year), raises the level of the brain chemical serotonin, which is supposed to tell the body it is satiated.

Drugs like these--poo-poohed by medical experts for being merely another in a long line of quick fixes--haven't proven to provide long-term help. They have side effects and can't be taken for more than 12 weeks at a time, says UW Psychologist Stephen Woods, who specializes in obesity.

How the Body Sends Signals to Store Fat
Mutant Mice Defeat High Fat Diet
Genetics Finally Recognized as a Key to Weight Gain
Drugs Not Total Answer to Weight Loss

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