Anti-obesity jab that will stop you feeling hungry 'available within five years'
Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 2:34 AM on 09th September 2008
An injection that cures obesity could be available within five years, leading scientists claimed today.
Researchers at University College London are developing drugs to control a patient's hormone levels and effectively stop them feeling hungry.
The team made their breakthrough after they studied gastric band surgery and found the procedure altered levels of ghrelin - the so called "hunger hormone" - along with several other hormones related to glucose regulation. Now they hope to recreate the effect in a drug.
A new drug could alter a patient's hormone levels to make them feel less hungry
"Body weight is controlled by hormones in our gut, which affect how hungry we feel and are also linked to the brain's pleasure centre," said Dr Rachel Batterham, a Medical Research Council clinician scientist at University College London.
She revealed the work at the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool today.
"Weight control surgery affects these hormone levels, so we are now hoping to recreate those hormonal changes in treatments," she added.
The team are developing injections and nasal sprays that could change a patient's hormonal balance, making him feel less hungry. Human trials of the injections have already begun.
It is hoped the technique could also be used to treat type 2 diabetes. Scientists say that condition has been cured within a week in ptients who have some types of surgery - after a change in the levels of their glucose-controlling hormones.
"Understanding how these hormones work is really the holy grail," Dr Batterham added.
The team made the discovery by scanning the brains of obese people, although they struggled to find patients small enough to fit in the MRI scanners.
Dr Carel Le Roux of Imperial College London, who is working with Dr Batterham, said: "We are hopeful a treatment could replace surgery within five years but surgery needs to be made more widely available until then.
"Diet and lifestyle advice just does not work, as people regain the weight they lose. The only treatment for morbid obesity is surgery, and we need to investigate whether more of it should be done.
"Our society looks down on people who have obesity surgery, however it is the only effective treatment we have."
Obesity costs the NHS an estimated £4.2 billion a year and experts say that figure could double by 2050.
Trials of the drug have found patients initially lost about one kilogram a week. Injections have to be given to patients three times a day but the team is hopeful a tablet can eventually be created. Several drug companies, including Pfizer, the makers of Viagra, are testing products based on the research.
Dr Batterham added that patients feel more comfortable with tablets and she hopes to develop a one-off pill which permanently fixes hormone levels.