Body fat could be destroyed by a drug that cuts off its blood supply, a new study suggests.
Researchers tested an experimental drug called adipotide in obese rhesus monkeys, and found the monkeys lost about 11 percent of their body weight after a 28-day treatment period and a 28-day recovery period.
The researchers essentially designed "a homing device that you can attach a payload to," said study author Renata Pasqualini, of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The target is the blood vessels that nourish fat tissue.
The researchers traced the origins of their work to the ideas of the late Dr. Judah Folkman, a prominent oncologist who suggested cancer cells would die if the blood vessels that fed them were killed. (The cancer drug Avastin came out of Folkman's research.)
"If you think about tissues you'd like to do away with, the obvious ones that come to mind are cancer cells and fat," Pasqualini told MyHealthNewsDaily.
Lean monkeys not affected
The drug was administered by an injection, and the dose was determined by the weight of each monkey.
The animals were from a rhesus monkey population used for research where 1 to 2 percent of the monkeys are obese because of their eating patterns and a lack of interest in exercise.
In the trial, obese monkeys lost weight on the drug, while lean monkeys were not affected by taking it.
"Apparently this is something specific to white fat. We definitely don't see lean subjects losing weight," Pasqualini said.
Some concerns remain about the mechanics of the drug.
"From the perspective of a physician, when you have massive death of a tissue, the question is what happens with the debris that are released? What is the collateral damage inflicted by this mass of tissue?" said Dr. Ali Nayer, a nephrologist and clinical researcher at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, who was not involved with the study.
But did the weight stay off?
While the monkeys in the study generally tolerated the drug well, Nayer said their kidney function was reduced while on the drug, which might be a source of concern, although the function returned in the recovery period.
Nayer said that because the initial studies of adipotide were conducted in mice, investigators needed to ensure the drug was working the same way in monkeys, and therefore it could be expected to work the same way in humans.
He noted that at the end of the recovery period, the monkeys were beginning to regain weight.
But given concerns about obesity, it is an important area, particularly given the lack of success and unpleasant side effects of current weight loss drugs.
"There is definitely a niche there for developing new strategies, new medications for obesity," Nayer said.
Further research is being conducted on the drug, which is licensed to the pharmaceutical company Ablaris Therapeutics, under a license from the University of Texas, with which MD Anderson is affiliated.
The study appears online today (Nov. 9) in the journal Science Translational Medicine.