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Can a vaccine cure obesity?

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A new study, published in the Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, reports on the effects of a new vaccine aimed at treating obesity.  Whilst the study was only performed on mice and results in humans may vary, it is a promising new direction for treatment options for the increasing demographic who are losing the battle of the bulge.

Only 4 days after being injected with the vaccine, the mice in the active treatment group weighed 10% less than the control mice who were vaccinated with a placebo injection of normal saline.  The mice were fed a high-fat diet, containing 60% of calories from fat and allowed to eat as much as they desired.  Although there was no difference in the amount of food either mouse group consumed over the period of the study, the vaccinated group displayed a greatly reduced level of weight gain throughout the six week period they were studied.

The two vaccinations used in the study, JH17 and JH18 are both somatostatin vaccines.  Somatostatin is a peptide hormone which inhibits the action of growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).

Growth hormone is also a peptide hormone that stimulates growth, cell reproduction and regeneration. It is synthesized, stored and secreted in the anterior pituitary gland by specialised cells called somatotrophs.

Insulin-like growth factor is a protein with a molecular structure very similar to the hormone insulin.  It is produced mainly in the liver and HGH stimulates its production.

Vaccination with modified somatostatin causes the body to generate antibodies to somatostatin, effectively removing this inhibition without directly interfering with the growth hormones and subsequently increasing energy expenditure and weight loss.

Keith Haffer from Braasch Biotech LLC, tested the vaccinations in two groups of ten diet-induced obese male mice compared with a control group of ten mice which received saline injections. Mice in all groups had been fed a high fat diet for eight weeks prior to the study and continued to eat the same food for the duration of the six-week study. The vaccinations were administered twice – at the start of the study followed by a booster vaccination on day 22.

At the end of the study, results showed that both vaccines induced antibodies to somatostatin and significantly reduced body weight, sustaining a 10% lower body weight, without affecting normal levels of the growth hormone IGF-1, or insulin levels.

“This study demonstrates the possibility of treating obesity with vaccination”, Keith explained. He continued, “Although further studies are necessary to discover the long term implications of these vaccines, treatment of human obesity with vaccination would provide physicians with a drug- and surgical- free option against the weight epidemic.”

It’s very early days and there are many steps in between a slightly positive result in a mouse study and meaningful results in humans, but research into the effects of IGF-1 and HGH are likely avenues towards finding a successful treatment for obesity.

In the meantime, the best way to maintain a healthy body at a healthy weight is to keep your body moving and don’t eat anything bigger than your head in a single sitting.  Maybe not even two unless there’s a lot of lettuce in there.

More Information:

Haffer, K. Effects of Novel Vaccines on Weight Loss in Diet-Induced-Obese (DIO) Mice
Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology 2012, 3:21 doi:10.1186/2049-1891-3-21

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