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Emory researchers find what could be an obesity treatment

11:37 PM, Nov 2, 2012   |    comments
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EMORY, Ga. -- One third of the US population is considered obese. But new research at Emory could soon help millions who are overweight.

Scientists regularly spend 10 hours a day in the lab. They're often there weekends. Years of research may not yield big results, but sometimes, it can be groundbreaking.

"It's really amazing," said Emory Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Keqiang Ye.

Professor Ye and his team have secured a patent on what he calls a "magical compound" that could potentially combat obesity.

"It took us a few years pin down and finalize this story and we're really excited about these findings," Ye explained.

The results are visible in their research mice. For a few months, one group consumed high fat diets with that critical compound. One group had a high fat diet without it.

"As you can tell they are much smaller compared to those girls," Ye said while holding up mice that had consumed the compound and those that did not.

Professor Ye specified girls because the research is successful in female mice, but it had no positive impact in male mice.

And for those female mice where the compounded worked, they were 30-40 percent lighter than the female mice who did not consume the compound.

They found the compound when studying a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. Scientists say, in people, these hormones, which are released in the body after a person eats, "tell" the body to stop eating. During drug screening they found a compound that imitates that hormone. It's called 7,8-Dihydroxyflavone. That's Ye's "magical compound".

"Luckily we are the first in the world to identify the small molecule which can mimic the physiological function of this hormone," Ye said.

Professor Ye says other labs around the world are validating their findings and they're getting ready to publish.

Assistant Professor Chibun Chan, who has also worked for years on this research, is ecstatic about what this could mean.
"It is wow! Amazing," Chan said. "One day I believe this will be an amazing drug to treat obesity."

If you're curious about when this research might go from this Emory lab to your doctor's office, Ye says it won't be overnight.

Since the compound is non-toxic, and is actually found in tree leaves from Central and South America and in small concentrations in celery, parsley and even citrus peels, it might just take a few years, rather than up to a decade. Professor Ye says it would likely be in pill form or could even be something you drink, like a tea.

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