NEU's new weight-loss compound shows promise

August 18, 2010

Researchers at Northeastern University's Center for Drug Discovery (CDD) and the National Institutes of Health have created a weight-loss compound that reduces the metabolic and hormonal consequences of obesity, including diabetes, insulin resistance and fatty liver, without causing psychological side effects.

The findings were reported last month in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Reuters and ScienceDaily were among the publications that reported on the study.

"We’re very excited because it’s the first compound of its kind," said CDD director Alexandros Makriyannis, holder of the Behrakis Trustee Chair in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and a contributor to the study. "It’s promising because it has a benign profile."

Dr. George Kunos, the scientific director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, contributed to the report.

The new compound suppresses appetite through a highly innovative approach: blocking the activation of endocannabinoid receptors in organs such as the liver, intestine and pancreas, without targeting the brain. Endocannabinoids are natural "lipid messengers" in the body that have some of the properties of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the active compound in marijuana.

Weight-loss drugs that deactivate endocannabinoid receptors in the brain have been linked to nausea, anxiety and depression. Acomplia, a popular weight-loss drug in Britain, was taken off the shelves after a number of users died and hundreds of others experienced psychological side effects.

Researchers tested the new compound on mice. They found that mice that got fat from overeating lost 12 percent of their body weight, and experienced a reduction in levels of blood fats and blood sugar, without any effect on behavioral responses. The control group of mice lost no weight.

The next step is to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to test the compound on humans, said Makriyannis.

The CDD is dedicated to the discovery of novel medications and the development of approaches and technologies aimed at improving the discovery of new therapeutic drugs. It is among a number of centers that contribute to Northeastern’s research focus in the areas of health, security and sustainability.

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