A compelling new study led by scientists at the University of Washington(St. Louis) School of Medicine has found that a new gene therapy can prevent obesity and help build muscle in mice fed a high-fat diet without the need for extra exercise,media New Atlas reported.
Follistatin is a protein expressed in almost all animal tissues and was first discovered and described in the late 1980s. Initial studies were conducted to explore its role as a reproductive hormone, and later found that Follistatin can influence a range of cellular processes, including muscle hyperplasia. Previous animal studies have shown that gene therapy designed to amplify follistatin expression can fight some degenerative muscle diseases. The new study explores whether the treatment could help treat osteoarthritis by increasing muscle mass and reducing metabolic inflammation associated with obesity.
“Obesity is the most common risk factor for osteoarthritis,” explains Farshid Guilak, senior researcher for the new study. “Being overweight hinders a person’s ability to exercise and prevents the full benefit of physiotherapy. “The study involved young mice treated with a single gene and was designed to improve the expression of Follistatin. The animals were fed a high-fat diet, and the researchers observed the progressof osteoarthritis after their joint injuries.
Guilak described the subsequent results as “impressive” and that although the animals were fed a high-fat diet and did not exercise properly, they built muscle mass without gaining extra weight. Gene therapy significantly reduces cartilage degeneration, sliding membrane inflammation and bone reconstruction associated with joint damage and osteoarthritis.
“We’ve found a way here to use gene therapy to quickly build muscle, ” Guilak said. “It has had a profound effect on mice and controlled their weight, suggesting that similar methods may be effective for arthritis, especially in cases of morbid obesity. “
This isn’t the first time researchers have proposed a treatment for humans using the follistatin gene. It is being studied as a treatment for potential cancer, kidney disease and cystic fibrosis. A phase 1 human trial that tested the safety of the follistatin gene therapy for Baker-type muscular dystrophy showed that the treatment did not have an adverse reaction, however, the efficacy at this stage is unclear.
The new study shows that the follistatin gene therapy has a range of factors that not only affect muscle mass, but also a wide range of metabolic activities that can somehow combat calorie intake in a high-fat diet. Guilak is realistic about how far his team’s research may be far from clinical treatment in humans, but the promising finding sittable for future human gene therapy, which can treat obesity without changing diet or build muscle in subjects who can’t move.
“Things like this can take years to develop, but we’re excited about the prospect of reducing osteoarthritis-related joint damage, and it could be useful in situations of extreme obesity,” Guilak concludes. “
The new study is published in the journal Science Advances.