When someone says “this new (blank) will allow you to eat anything you want without gaining weight!”, it’s usually one of two situations: either there’s a lot of fine print to read, or it’s a scam. Researchers at Flinders University are aware how crazy their new research sounds, but it might be the real deal: according to their team, turning off the gene RCAN1 has allowed mice to consistently eat a high-fat diet and not become obese, and they think the same might be possible with humans.
The study, published in the journal EMBO Reports, focused on the weight gain in mice who were given high-fat diets over long periods of time. Without the function of the RCAN1 gene in these mice, the team discovered that they did not gain weight, regardless of their calorie intake. Part of the mechanism for this involves the transformation of energy-storing “white fat” into energy-burning “brown fat,” which cuts down on weight gain.
According to Professor Damien Keating, the lead author on the study, the team is already developing drugs that could disable the effects of RCAN1: “In light of our results, the drugs we are developing to target RCAN1 would burn more calories while people are resting. It means the body would store less fat without the need for a person to reduce food consumption or exercise more.”
Though the team needs to conduct more research into the side-effects of messing with RCAN1, Keating is excited by the findings, and hopes it will be the beginning of research into new drugs that can fight obesity and diabetes. “We really want to pursue this, it’s exciting and we have research funding from the Australian government through the National Health and Medical Research Council to continue to explore viable options,” he said. “These results show we can potentially make a real difference in the fight again obesity.”