Scientists find way to 'switch off' fat

PHOTO: Scientists find way to 'switch off' fat

SINGAPORE - Singapore scientists have come up with a fat-busting discovery that could make losing weight as easy as having an injection.

They found that switching off a molecule called myostatin in the body could keep people in "fat-burning mode" and let them shed kilograms more easily.

"Myostatin blockers could increase fat utilisation in the body and give the benefits of exercise without actual intense physical activity," said Associate Professor Ravi Kambadur of Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The discovery could reduce obesity, which is also a main cause of the common Type 2 diabetes. About one in 10 people in Singapore is obese, and the proportion of diabetics here among adults is about 11 per cent.

Previously, Prof Kambadur and other scientists had found that animals have more muscle and less fat when they lack myostatin. The same effect has been observed in mice, cattle and dogs.

This is because myostatin, which occurs naturally in animals and people, limits muscle cell growth. When a person has excessive myostatin, his or her muscle cells waste away.

The Singapore team wanted to know if reducing myostatin in animals could prevent unnatural muscle loss, a common side effect of chronic diseases such as cancer.

They developed small molecules which prevent myostatin from attaching itself to muscle cells, and tested it on mice afflicted with various diseases.

The team found that blocking myostatin allows muscles to keep growing and also directs the body to burn fat instead of muscle.

"Myostatin blockers would be a good alternative treatment for people who are unable to exercise, such as those who are bedridden or are in cancer treatment, who are most at risk of massive muscle loss," said Prof Kambadur.

The discovery could also help mitigate the gradual wasting of muscle with ageing, he added. Studies have found that older people have more myostatin.

The Singapore scientists are from NTU, the National University of Singapore and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

Their research was published last month in science journal Cell Metabolism.

Prof Kambadur said that in the next three to five years, team members plan to verify their findings in people by using human blood samples. They have started work on this with help from the National University Hospital. "Our intention is to develop something that can be taken orally or given through injections" to block myostatin, he said.

zengkun@sph.com.sg


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