MadSci Network: Genetics

Re: What research is currently being done on the modification of obesity genes?

Date: Fri Apr 27 08:16:16 2001
Posted By: Doug Reed, Faculty, Toxinology & Aerobiology, USAMRIID
Area of science: Genetics
ID: 988293269.Ge

The simple answer is that no research is being carried out to change the
obesity genes in people to "prevent" being born fat or having obese children.

This is for a variety of reasons. Gene therapy is still in early stages as
a treatment and can only modify a few cells. So-called "obesity" genes have
been found, in which mutations of the genes have led to overweight mice.
Similar genes have been found in humans, but that does not necessarily mean
they have the same effect! Even assuming they did, scientists as yet have
no idea what cells would have to be modified to block obesity.
Modifications to prevent giving birth to obese children requires gene
therapy to modify the cells that give rise to eggs in female ovaries or
sperm in the male testes. This type of modification is both morally and
ethically wrong - it would lead towards genetically modified children for
eye color, hair color, intelligence, etc....(However, I fully expect that
in some point in the future even this will be come a reality)

Not that there isn't hope. Identification of the mutations in a gene that
can result in obesity can lead to intense study of the proteins that are
made by these genes. Using the precision tools that are available,
scientists can dissect what these proteins do and screen compounds that
modify their function. Potentially, new drug therapies could be created
which would help prevent a person from becoming obese or with proper
exercise & diet help an already obese person lose the weight. Although I
have not heard of any candidate drugs I am almost certain that such
products are probably already undergoing testing and will be available
sometime in the next 5 to 10 years.

You won't be able to prevent someone from having a child with genes that
could lead to obesity, but you will (in the near future) be able to tell a
person that their child has the genes and (when available) prescribe drugs
that could prevent the child from ever being obese.

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