Pharmacologists have successfully tweaked bacteria to produce hunger-suppressing molecules that can help you feel full and shed kilos. Tackling obesity could really be as simple as popping a pill in the near future. As an added bonus, the effects last for four to six weeks.
Bacteria engineered to produce hunger-suppressing molecules have been successfully used to prevent mice from overeating. This technique could be effectively used to help people lose weight, feel the team behind the research.
Pharmacologists from Vanderbilt University in the U.S. programmed a strain of E. coli, which is prescribed as a digestive probiotic in Europe, to produce a compound called N-acyl-phosphatidylethanolamines – or NAPE.
NAPE, produced naturally in the small intestine following a meal, is converted to a form that acts as an appetite suppressant. Essentially, the compound instructs our body and the brain in particular, to stop eating. Unfortunately, in case of obese people, their bodies sometimes don’t produce this compound in sufficient quantities, thereby keeping them “forever hungry.” Such a condition can make long-term treatment ineffective, shared lead researcher Sean Davis.
“By modifying bacteria to secrete certain therapeutic compounds, I can help treat diseases related to obesity and aging, such as diabetes and heart disease. Importantly, this could also help eliminate the need to remember to take medication.”
Having experimented on mice who were fed a high-fat diet, Davis and his team demonstrated that mice that drank water laced with the bacteria gained 15 percent less weight than mice in a control group.
“These mice ate less food, had lower body fat, and staved off diseases such as diabetes and fatty liver disease, better than their counterparts. Furthermore, the researchers report that the beneficial effects of the bacteria lasted for about four to six weeks, which suggests that the microbes were able to colonize in the gut once ingested.”
This new research, though builds on older models, is critical. Though scientists were aware of NAPE’s ability to suppress hunger, the molecule cannot be administered orally because it wouldn’t survive digestion. Others are working on differing methods of delivery, say via an injection, but Davis cautions several injections might be needed to ensure sufficient quantity of NAPE is delivered.
There are two reasons that make this new research revolutionary. First, the team noticed that they need much less of the compound when it’s being delivered by the bacteria, versus an injection, which he suspects is due to the fact that the bacteria are very close to the site where the NAPE needs to act. Second, the bacteria can produce NAPE, thereby eliminating the need to take repeat injections or popping pills.
Admitting the fact that there’s a viable danger of the bacteria colonizing to dangerous levels, they are trying to “cripple the bacteria” in a way that limits their potential to survive outside the warm, nutrient-rich environment of the gut.
Using such “designer probiotics” certainly opens up new ways to tackle obesity, added Davis.
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