"Fat Gene" Found: A Cure For Obesity?

May 21, 2011 By Deepa Gopal
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"Eat Healthy, Exercise" -- these have become the 21st century buzzwords, as obesity has risen to epidemic proportions in many parts of  the world. In the United States alone, nearly one in every 3 children are considered overweight or obese. When obesity starts young, chances are high that these children will struggle with obesity as adults too.

The "Master" Switch

Scientists have long known that obesity causes other health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, for the first time, they have discovered the "master gene" that controls other genes found in body fat.

We read about DNA here - the double helix inside a nucleus that carries the entire set of instructions for making the cell's proteins. A gene is a section of the DNA that has instructions for making one particular type of protein such as an enzyme. The genes also give a cell its character by the type of proteins they create -- it is what makes a bone cell different from a brain cell. A defect in the genes can contribute to the cell not functioning normally.

Known as KLF14, the "master" gene found by scientists is already linked to diabetes and cholesterol, and is passed down from mother to a child. Studies now show that this gene also influences the behavior of other distant genes that control BMI (body mass index), insulin level and glucose level -- factors that affect a body's normal function.

Can the "master" switch be turned off? This will be the topic of research in the coming years as scientists hope to develop medications that target KLF14. There is growing field called gene therapy -- still in the experimental phase -- where scientists insert healthy genetic material into the cells to make up for defective genes.

Mind too, not just the body..

Obesity is defined by a scale known as BMI or body mass index. Anyone can figure out their BMI by a simple mathematical calculation, and those with greater than 30, are considered obese. In yet another study, scientists have found out that obesity not only affects the body's chance of getting diseases, it affects the mind too.

A cognitive test that tests the brain's ability to think and reason was given to healthy and obese participants. It was found that the obese participants performed consistently lower. The scientists used a tool called MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging that creates a 3-D picture of the brain using magnetic fields and radio waves. Usually, the nerve bundles in the brain that carry messages are covered with a protective white substance -- in obese participants, this was found to be damaged. 

Is there hope? This is the best part of the study. When some of the obese participants went on an extensive diet/exercise regimen, as well as had surgery to remove excess fat, their cognitive abilities improved too. This goes to show our body's ability to regenerate and recover, if we take the effort.