Obesity and associated metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes, are major public health concerns.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), almost one in four people are obese. Over the next three decades, obesity and overweight-related diseases are expected to reduce life expectancy by nearly three years.
But conventional methods to reversing obesity are suffering from long-term inefficiency, say researchers. Dietary and lifestyle approaches are important, but often other methods are required.
“Current therapies for obesity include pharmacologic and bariatric surgery approaches. However, both of them have a limited long-term efficiency,” Laura Herrero, associate professor at the University of Barcelona’s Institute of Biomedicine, told FoodNavigator.
Herrero, together with a scientific team from the University of Barcelona and public research consortium CIBERobn, has designed a different strategy to fight obesity and diabetes which has been trialled in mice.
Ex vivo gene therapy for obesity reduction
“Gene therapy approaches could target diseases caused by gene mutations,” Herrero explained. “In our pre-clinical work with experimental mice, we have used a gene therapy approach to express a protein involved in fat oxidation, so cells have enhanced fat burning power.”
This is thought to be the first study to apply the ex vivo gene therapy technique to generate and implant cells that express the CPT1AM protein – an enzyme located in the mitochondria that plays a decisive role in many metabolic diseases such as obesity.
“Adipose tissue-isolated modified stem cells with enhanced lipid oxidation were transplanted into obese mice reducing their body weight and serum glucose, insulin and cholesterol levels,” we were told.
The researcher concluded that the implantation of adipocytes expressing the mitochondrial enzyme CPT1AM helps to reduce obesity and glucose tolerance in mice, and that the results support the future clinical use of this ex vivo gene therapy approach as a new strategy to reduce obesity and cholesterol rates in the population.
“In a potential future translation of this approach from mice to humans, several points should be considered and optimised, such as the isolation step, viability and functionality of the implant in a long-term study, and the maintenance of the improvement in the obese phenotype,” Herrero told this publication.
What about diet and exercise?
Of course, such therapies do not take away from the importance of lifestyle measures.
“Living a healthy lifestyle would help not only for obesity but for many other metabolic diseases,” we were told. “Thus, lifestyle interventions are always recommended.”
Increasingly, policymakers are intervening to help encourage lifestyle changes where necessary, and linking such changes to environmental benefits. According to the European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy, on the whole European diets are not in line with national dietary recommendations and the ‘food environment’ does not ensure that the healthy option is always the easiest one.
“If European diets were in line with dietary recommendations, the environmental footprint of food systems would be significantly reduced.”
The Commission is advocating for a move to a more plant-based diet with less red and processed meat and with more fruits and vegetables, and via the Farm to Fork strategy wants to empower consumers to make informed, healthy and sustainable food choices.
Related policies cover the proposal of mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling and tax incentives to encourage consumers to choose sustainable and healthy diets.
Source: Metabolic Engineering
‘Implantation of CPT1AM-expressing adipocytes reduces obesity and glucose intolerance in mice’
Published online 22 April 2023
Authors: M C Soler-Vázquez, M Romero, L Herrero et al.