New Genes Mean the Future of Obesity Treatment Could Get Personal

Posted: February 11, 2015 at 9:47 pm

TIME Health Obesity New Genes Mean the Future of Obesity Treatment Could Get Personal Getty Images Scientists have uncovered a trove of new genetic targets that could lead to better treatments for obesity

It took the genomes of nearly 340,000 people and more than 400 researchers in two dozen countries, but we now have the most comprehensive picture so far of the genetic contributors to obesity.

Two new papers in the journal Nature describe the results of two studies that connected the obesity-related factors of body mass index (the ratio between height and weight) and fat distribution to their potential genetic drivers. The studies did not isolate specific genesat least not yetbut identified areas in the human genome where people with different BMIs and different patterns of fat distribution varied in their genetic code. Those variants will lead scientists to the genes they code for, and eventually to how those genes work in contributing to obesity.

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I think we have so many more opportunities now to learn about the biology of obesity through genetic contributions to these traits, says Karen Mohlke, professor of genetics at University of North Carolina and the senior author of the report focusing on body fat distribution.

Those genetic clues may yield new weight-management treatments that are both more powerful and more personalized. What the data supports is the fact that there are a lot of different causes of obesity, says Dr. Elizabeth Speliotes, assistant professor of internal medicine and computational medicine and bioinformatics at the University of Michigan and senior author of the paper on body mass index. If youre hoping for one cause of obesity, thats not reality. What causes you to be obese is probably slightly different from what causes me to be obese.

Currently, however, all obesity is treated pretty much the same way. With the new knowledge gleaned from the genetics of whats driving different types of obesity, that may change.

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In the study involving factors contributing to BMI, Speliotes and her team discovered 97 genetic regions, or loci that account for nearly 3% of the variation among people on BMI. Of those, 56 are entirely new. Many of the regions are in areas that code for nervous system functions, or brain systems. Some arent so surprisingthey confirm previous studies that have implicated genetic regulators of areas that control appetite, for examplebut others were more unexpected. They involved regions responsible for learning, memory and even emotional regulation, hinting that some of weight and obesity may be tied to the addiction and reward pathways that help to reinforce behaviors like eating with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. There were definitely a lot more loci involving the brain than I would have guessed, says Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, director of the center for basic and translational obesity research at Boston Childrens Hospital and Harvard Medical School and one of the co-authors. That makes obesity much more of a neurobehavioral disorder than just the fact that your fat cells are more efficient or less efficient.

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New Genes Mean the Future of Obesity Treatment Could Get Personal

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