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Genetic circuit supresses appetite in response to blood-fat levels


November 26, 2013

Genetically modified cells implanted in the body monitor the blood-fat level and produce a satiety hormone if it is too high (Image: Martin Fussenegger / ETH Zurich / Jackson Lab)

Genetically modified cells implanted in the body monitor the blood-fat level and produce a satiety hormone if it is too high (Image: Martin Fussenegger / ETH Zurich / Jackson Lab)

Most who have tried it would agree that dieting is a generally unpleasant, and an oftentimes ineffective way to lose weight in the long-term. The biggest hurdle for many is the constant hunger that comes from a change in their regular diet. Biotechnologists at ETH-Zurich have created a genetic helper that could one day put an end to the hunger pangs.

Unlike invasive tummy-tying approaches, such as laparoscopic adjustable gastric bands or stomach stapling, the new genetic slimming aid developed at ETH-Zurich can be implanted in a capsule. The capsule contains human cells that have been implanted with a complex regulatory circuit that was created by combining different human genes that produce proteins and reaction steps.

When released, the synthetic genetic circuit constantly monitors the levels of fat circulating in the blood and, when excessively high fat levels are detected, it produces a hormone that makes the body feel satiated, thus suppressing appetite. The researchers say the circuit can measure several types of fat, including several saturated and unsaturated animal and vegetable fats that are ingested at once.

The research group, headed by ETH-Zurich professor Martin Fussenegger, tested the genetic regulatory circuit on obese mice that had been fed a diet of fatty food. Capsules containing the circuit were implanted in the mice, which then stopped eating excessively and started to lose bodyweight. After their blood-fat levels returned to normal, the circuit stopped producing the satiety-signaling substance.

“The mice lost weight although we kept giving them as much high-calorie food as they could eat,” says Fussenegger, who added that mice fed a diet of normal animal feed with a five-percent fat content didn't reduce their food intake or lose weight.

Although the research team days it will take years to transfer this approach into humans, Fussenegger thinks the implantation of such a gene network could one day provide an alternative to surgical techniques such as liposuction or gastric bands for obese people.

The team's research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: ETH-Zurich

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Phenomenal, prevention beats cure

Paul Adams

How about just providing the appetite suppressant? I can decide for myself when I need it. And that is all I would need.

Bob Ehresman

I water fasted many times in the seventies and early eighties. It takes a lot of will power and can be dangerous without supervision. I recommend preparing by reading and getting support during the entire period. But it can be done without a doctor.

I recommend starting with a short juice fast, maybe 3 days. Work up to a two week fast. If you can handle that you are ready to try a water fast.

A quiet rural setting providing room to walk is much better than a noisy city with food smells and television. Reading, crafts, and mind stimulating activities help the time pass.

Don Duncan

Now if this worked on carbohydrates which are the real cause of weight gain, this might be useful!

Jerry Peavy

This is way cool technology with many other applications no doubt. Things like correcting hormone imbalances and maybe depression.

But it makes the assumption that eating fat will make you fat and that has been shown to be a false assumption. The body already creates appetite suppressing hormone in response to fat consumption. The problems occur when you combine high calorie foods with high salt (makes you want to drink more which often leads to sugary drink consumption) and high fructose foods and to an extent other carbohydrates. This is because fructose doesn't pass through the same or as many appetite control mechanisms as does fat, protein and other carbs. So to lose weight: address emotional / stress issues, be mindful of your appetite, eat less (or no) sugar, drink water if you are thirsty and don't be afraid of fat. This does not constitute health advice as things obviously change from person to person dependent on their circumstance.

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