Daily injection stops hunger pangs in obese children by tackling genes

A daily jab could knock out hunger pangs of children born with obesity genes, reveal scientists

  • Daily injection drug could treat obese children with faulty genes, scientists say
  • Drug liraglutide affects faulty MC4R gene, which occurs in 1 in 50 obese people
  • The gene controls feelings of hunger but doesn’t turn off due to the disorder 
  • 3mg dose drug a day helped obese patients lose almost as much as 7kg in weight
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A drug administered as a daily injection could soon be available for young children who suffer from genetically driven obesity, scientists have revealed. 

The drug, called liraglutide, could help to counter the effects of the faulty MC4R gene and is the reason some children can’t help but gain weight when they’re young. 

The gene controls feelings of hunger and occurs in one in every 50 obese people, around 300,000 in UK.

However, a 3mg dose of liraglutide each day during a study trial was enough to restore this genetic ‘stop button’, and help participants lose up to seven kilograms in weight, which scientists described as a first.

Daily injection could be the first ever way to treat children who develop obesity due to genes

What is obesity?

Obesity is a condition in which someone is very overweight and has a lot of body fat.

Generally, people with a BMI of 30+ are considered obese. A BMI of between 18 and 24.9 is healthy.

In the UK an estimated 25 per cent of adults are obese, and 20 per cent of children aged 10-11.

Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and stroke, some types of cancer, and numerous other serious health problems. 

It is generally caused by people eating more calories than they burn off – particularly if their food is high in fat or sugar.

The best way to prevent or tackle obesity is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and to do regular exercise – the NHS recommends between two-and-a-half and five hours per week.

Calculating a person’s BMI involves measuring their height and weight and considering their age and gender.

Work out yours or your child’s with the NHS BMI calculator. 

 Source: NHS Choices  

Gene controls feelings of hunger 

Current drug treatments from obesity frequently help reduce weight by suppressing the appetite, but, for some, these provide often short term solutions, and they put the weight back on months later.

These treatments may not be effective if the weight gain was caused by the presence of the faulty MC4R gene.

‘This receptor regulates our appetite,’ Signe Sorensen Torekov, who is an associate professor of metabolic research at the University of Copenhagen and one of the authors on the study, which was published in Cell Metabolism.

‘It’s crucial. If you don’t have the mutations, when it’s activated it signals for you to stop eating.

‘If you do have the mutations, you’re missing the stop button. That’s why children become obese very early, because their sensation of appetite is enormous. Even when they have eaten, they still feel hungry.’

In the study trial, a small dose of liraglutide was given to two groups over a period of four months. 

The first group had 14 obese people who had the genetic mutation, whereas the other had 28 obesity patients without the faulty gene.

In both groups, patients lost an average of six to seven kilograms, which was around seven per cent of their body weight.

The scientists summarise their study by saying that the treatment may present an ‘effective treatment’ for obesity caused by this specific gene. 

‘This has never been done before,’ Dr Torekov told the Times. ‘It’s the first real treatment of the most common form of genetically caused obesity.’ 

The drug, called liraglutide, helps to balance the effects of the faulty MC4R gene that occurs on in every 50 obese person (around 300,000 in UK).

Unlikely to be provided by the NHS 

Previous studies have suggested the drug may help obese people without the mutated gene maintain their weight, having lost it. 

The drug is unlikely to be provided by the NHS anytime soon, however. Treatment costs £200 a month, which would cost the health service £36 billion a year, a third of its annual budget.

Children would also need to be diagnosed with the faulty gene before they could be treated

Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of the drug, are creating a pill which may be more practical than the jab, but the treatment may come with side affects, like vomiting and diarrhoea.


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