In the UK, over half of the population are overweight or obese. Many people take fat-burning pills in an attempt to speed up weight loss, but the results are variable, and the pills have to be taken regularly. “We need strategies that deliver the drug without requiring the patient to remember to take their pills every few hours,” says Dr Sean Davies at Vanderbilt University in the US.
The researchers’ solution was to alter the genes of a strain of probiotic bacteria so that it created molecules called N-Acylphosphatidylethanolamines (NAPEs), which the body can rapidly convert into appetite-suppressing molecules known as NAEs. When mice were fed water laced with these bacteria, the rodents were lighter, leaner and had a better glucose metabolism than those who had received plain water, even after just eight weeks of treatment.
The benefit of this approach, say the researchers, is that the therapeutic bacteria would live in the gut for months at a time, providing a steady stream of anti-obesity drugs.
However, before human trials can be started, the researchers want to genetically modify the bacteria so that they’re not transmitted so easily. This will prevent the bacteria from entering the body of someone who doesn’t need them. “You could imagine that there might be some individuals, say the very young or old or those with specific diseases, who could be harmed by being exposed to an appetite-suppressing bacteria,” says Davies.
In the meantime, maybe give that double cheeseburger a miss.