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Pulse 191: Can a New Pill Treat Obesity?

16 February 2021
Giulio Prisco

Pill for Obesity

About one third (35%) of people who took a new drug for treating obesity lost more than one-fifth of their total body weight. The drug, semaglutide, works by hijacking the body's own appetite regulating system in the brain. It leads to reduced hunger and calorie intake.

A study is published in New England Journal of Medicine. In it, the researchers report that participants in a large scale global trial lost an average 15.3 kg. This was accompanied by reductions in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. For example, waist circumference, blood fats, blood sugar, and blood pressure decreased. And participants reported improvements in their overall quality of life.

“The findings of this study represent a major breakthrough for improving the health of people with obesity,” said Rachel Batterham in a press release. It was issued by UCL, where she leads the Centre for Obesity Research.

"Three quarters (75 percent) of people who received semaglutide 2.4mg lost more than 10 percent of their body weight and more than one-third lost more than 20 percent," she continued. "No other drug has come close to producing this level of weight loss - this really is a gamechanger. For the first time, people can achieve through drugs what was only possible through weight-loss surgery."

Semaglutide is already approved and used clinically at a lower dose for treatment of diabetes. With evidence from this trial, semaglutide has been submitted for regulatory approval as a treatment for obesity.

I’m one of too many people with excess weight. Deep down in my often aching bones, I know that I should lose weight. But I’m unwilling to give up the pleasure of good food in large doses. I’ll add that I don’t like exercise, to which I really prefer my armchair and a good book. So I guess I’m a card carrying member of the demographics targeted by this research. Perhaps some next-generation treatments will help us?

Nanotech Promises Better Cancer Immunotherapy

Researchers at UT Southwestern have shown that a new nanoparticle-based drug can boost the body's innate immune system. And it can make the immune system more effective at fighting off tumors.

A study is published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Researchers describe how to successfully target the immune molecule, STING. They do so with nanoparticles that can switch on/off immune activity in response to their physiological environment. This approach leads to a more effective immune  response against multiple solid tumors.

In the laboratory, mice survived longer and had slower tumor growth. The researchers are persuaded that this new nanotechnology approach offers a way to realize the exciting potential of STING activation without some of the limitations.

Re-Educated Immune Cells Optimize Immunity

Researchers at Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) have identified a therapeutic approach to restore the effectiveness of immune cells. They were prompted by the need to improve conventional treatments for people infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1).

A specific group of patients, called "elite controllers," are able to live with the infection without any drug intervention. In a paper published in Autophagy, the researchers show that the strength of elite controllers comes from their energy metabolism within a certain type of immune cells.

These immune cells can be "re-educated" using a soluble protein called interleukin-21 (IL-21). This optimizes their energy intake and immune function.

These findings are not necessarily limited to HIV-1. They could have implications for other pathologies associated with persistent inflammation, such as cancer.

Synthetic Gene Circuits for Cancer Treatment

Bioengineers at Arizona State University have developed a new process for inserting synthetic gene circuits into cells. This could have broad implications for improving the effectiveness of a range of disease therapies.

Synthetic gene circuits can be customized to fight disease, including cancer. But they often consume too much of the limited resources of a cell.

A paper is published in Nature Communications. Bioengineers describe a way to insert individual gene circuits into multiple host cells that work collectively. Each cell performs a specific function, eliminating the undesired competition for resources of any host cell.

The technology has broad implications for cancer treatment. Synthetic gene circuits may be constructed to prevent cancer cells from metastasizing. And this can simultaneously make them more receptive to treatment.

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