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  • In an animal study, researchers tested how effective a new drug would be in treating obesity.
  • Rats on the drug ate up to 80% less than what would they typically eat.
  • The experimental drug also may have fewer side effects than currently available obesity drugs that may cause nausea and vomiting.

A new drug might potentially treat obesity without surgery and without the side effects of current medications, according to new research presented at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society.

In rats, the peptides tested dramatically reduced weight and lowered blood sugar.

Researchers used rats to test a new peptide for weight loss.

In the study, rats on the experimental drug liraglutide ate up to 80% less than they would typically eat and, by day 16, had lost an average of 12% of their weight.

There was no indication of nausea or vomiting. Injectable compounds typically reduce the side effects of nausea and vomiting, common in other weight loss medications.

The weight loss was an effect of decreased eating and higher energy expenditure. The researchers noted that the rats showed increased movement, heart rate, or body temperature.

A research team led by Robert Doyle, PhD, a professor of chemistry at Syracuse University and Dr. Christian Roth, a physician specializing in Endocrinology and Diabetes at Seattle Children’s Hospital, created the peptide. The rats received the medication by injection a few times a week. The scientists noted that this schedule kept the weight off and lowered blood sugar levels by pulling glucose into muscle tissue, where it could potentially turn into fuel. It also converts some cells in the pancreas into insulin-producing cells, helping to replace those damaged by diabetes.

While the research is still in the early stages, the researchers think that the experimental drug has potential.

The researchers note that between 80% and 90% of people taking weight-loss medications that are currently available discontinue use within a year.

“The study shows an interesting potential for a drug that may be better tolerated than currently available drugs,” says Dr. Mir Ali, bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA.

Ali pointed out there are few concerns about this early research:

  • First, these are only early results in a rodent model; it will take some years before it gets to the point of human trials
  • Second, side effects are not necessarily the only reason patients stop medication: cost is a significant factor in many of these medications

And finally, most studies have shown that when a patient stops a weight loss medication, they regain significant weight. Surgery, by far, has significantly more effective long-term outcomes.”

Another unexpected result that surfaced in the study is a reduced craving for opioids such as fentanyl. If it works the same way in humans, it can help people addicted to opioids quit or fend off relapses.

The scientists have filed for a patent and plan to test the peptide in primates.

“Overall, this is a promising new development in the treatment of obesity,” says Dr. Minisha Sood, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Activating brain regions that might have a profound appetite suppressant effect which would be yet another option in persons with obesity and upregulated appetite centers in the brain, especially those who do not respond to Diabetes medications, such as Trulicity or Ozempic, alone.”

“Given it appears to have dual agnosticism properties, I would expect it to be even more effective than Ozempic, a single agonist, in appetite suppression,” Dr. Sood said.

Overweight and obesity are chronic, common conditions in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health.

These conditions are linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and can aggravate many other health conditions.

The causes of obesity include:

  • Eating patterns, such as eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Some medications, such as those for diabetes, depression, or high blood pressure
  • Genetics and family history

Around three-fourths of adults in the US older than age 20 have either overweight or obesity. About 20% of children between ages 2 and 19 years have obesity.

Medical professionals use body mass index (BMI) to screen for overweight and obesity. The calculation is the weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of height (in meters.) There are several BMI calculators online, including one from the CDC.

“For any further studies on weight reduction I’d like further study to evaluate not only weight loss but body composition,” Sood told Healthline. “We simply do not have enough insight into whether patients on gut hormone agonists for weight loss are primarily losing fat or a combination of muscle and fat (the latter is more likely). Losing muscle would be antithetical to the goal of aging well and maintaining a robust metabolism in the aging process.”