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Promising drug may keep people skinny — even on an unhealthy diet

AUGUST 5, 2023

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Imagine a world where you could eat all the sugary and fatty foods you want without gaining weight or harming your health. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have made an exciting discovery that brings us one step closer to that dream. They have developed a small-molecule drug that prevents weight gain and protects the liver in mice that eat a high-sugar, high-fat Western diet throughout their lives. The research offers hope for combating the negative effects of unhealthy eating.

“When we give this drug to the mice for a short time, they start losing weight. They all become slim,” says Madesh Muniswamy, Ph.D., professor of medicine at the health science center’s Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine, in a media release.

To understand how this drug works, the scientists first investigated the role of magnesium in metabolism, which is the process of producing and using energy in our cells. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays many important roles in the body, such as regulating blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and bone health. However, the researchers found that too much magnesium slows down energy production in cellular power plants called mitochondria.

Co-lead author Travis R. Madaris, a doctoral student involved in the study, explains that too much magnesium puts the brakes on energy production, causing it to slow down. The team discovered that by deleting a specific gene called MRS2, which promotes magnesium transport into the mitochondria, they could enhance the metabolism of sugar and fat in these cellular power plants. The result? The mice stayed skinny and healthy.

But that’s not all. The mice showed no signs of fatty liver disease, a serious complication associated with a poor diet, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. This exciting finding suggests that by limiting the amount of magnesium entering the mitochondria, it’s possible to prevent weight gain and protect against the harmful effects of an unhealthy diet.

Teen boy eating junk food, drinking soda while looking at smartphone
(© New Africa – stock.adobe.com)

The drug developed by the researchers, called CPACC, achieves this same effect. It restricts the transfer of magnesium into the mitochondria. In their experiments, this led to the same outcome: skinny and healthy mice. The team has filed a patent application for the drug, signaling its potential for future medical use.

It’s important to note that the mice in this study served as a model for the long-term dietary stress caused by a Western diet rich in calories, sugar, and fat. This kind of diet is known to lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. By lowering mitochondrial magnesium, the researchers were able to counteract the adverse effects of this dietary stress.

The implications of this discovery are significant. The drug has the potential to reduce the risk of cardiometabolic diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, and even lower the chances of developing liver cancer, which can be a consequence of fatty liver disease. The researchers are committed to further developing this drug and exploring its potential impact on human health.

In the meantime, it’s important to focus on adopting a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Regular exercise, proper hydration, and sufficient sleep are also essential components of a healthy lifestyle. By taking care of our bodies and making informed choices, we can support our long-term health and well-being.

The study is published in the journal Cell Reports.