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Obesity drugs with fewer side effects; how edible soybean oil affects the brain

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Obesity drugs with fewer side effects; how edible soybean oil affects the brain

This is a recurring column on early-stage research in animals or other laboratory models that has not entered the clinic yet but could have implications for future research and development of human medicines.

Weight loss without the nausea

A study in mice showed that certain neurons can curb appetite without an accompanying feeling of nausea, a development that could potentially offer insights to tackle obesity in humans without negative side effects.

Researchers found the activation of two types of neuron circuits in the brains of mice — the calcitonin receptor, or CALCR, and cholecystokinin, or CCK, could decrease food intake, according to an article published in January in the Cell Metabolism journal.

SNL Image

Certain neurons can curb appetite without a feeling of nausea, a study in mice showed.
Source: Pixabay

However, activating the CALCR neurons didn't cause an aversive, or unpleasant, gut reaction, while the CCK neurons did. Neurons, the core component of the nervous system, are specialized cells that transmit information to nerve cells, muscles or gland cells.

Martin Myers, director of the Michigan Diabetes Research Center, said CCK activates the "yucky circuit" in the brain by activating a certain cell called or calcitonin gene-related peptide, or CGRP, which creates the feeling of nausea, while CALCR neurons follow a "yummy circuit" and activate non-CGRP cells.

A drug that turns on CALCR and turns off CGRP could potentially be able to suppress patients' appetite without making them feel nauseous, the research team said.

"If we could figure out a drug for individuals with obesity that suppresses food intake to produce long term weight loss without the negative side effects, it could absolutely change someone's life," said Myers.

Many diet pills on the market make people feel nauseous after they take them. Obesity remains a condition difficult to manage since the treatment options have limited therapeutic utility, the study noted.

Food for thought

Consuming edible soybean oil, whether modified or not, affects activities in the hypothalamus, a study in mice carried out by the University of California, Riverside, found. The hypothalamus is a small region of the brain that plays important roles in many functions, including regulating body temperature.

About 100 genes did not function properly after the mice consumed soybean oil, according to the study published in the Endocrinology journal in January. One of the genes affected is responsible for producing the oxytocin protein, which is important for social bonding and is also known as the "love" hormone. The study found the mice experienced a decline in oxytocin levels.

The researchers said the study suggests soybean oil may affect brain function and could have implications for neurological diseases such as autism and Parkinson's disease, although it did not prove soybean oil can cause these diseases. The team noted the findings only apply to soybean oil, not to other soy products or to other vegetable oils.

As a next step, researchers will identify what compounds in the oil cause these negative effects.

"This could help design healthier dietary oils in the future," said Poonamjot Deol, the first author of the study. Soybean oil is the most commonly used edible oil in the U.S.

Previous studies in mice showed soybean oil consumption can lead to obesity and diabetes. The oil is used for fast food frying, added to packaged foods and fed to livestock.

Improving the odds of leukemia therapy

Adding another drug to the most common leukemia treatment could enhance the latter's effectiveness in certain patients significantly, research on mice by Sweden-based Karolinska Institutet and SciLifeLab showed.

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A combo therapy proves more effective at treating a certain kind of blood cancer, a study on mice showed.
Source: Thinkstock

Acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, is an acute type of blood cancer that affects 20,000 people in the U.S. every year. The most common treatment is cytarabine, which interferes with DNA replication and thus inhibits the growth of cancer cells.

However, it is ineffective for patients who have high levels of enzyme SAMHD1, which breaks down the active ingredient — arabinofuranosylcytosine triphosphate, also known as ara-CTP — in the drug.

These patients also have a significantly lower chance of survival compared to other people with AML but without high levels of SAMHD1.

The study showed adding hydroxyurea or other therapies that belong to a class of drugs called ribonucleotide reductase inhibitors can help reduce SAMHD1's capacity to deactivate ara-CTP.

Hydroxyurea is a drug used to treat cancers including AML, but it has never been combined with cytarabine. Gemcitabine and triapine are two other ribonucleotide reductase inhibitors that may also be used in combination with cytarabine, the study noted.