A new drug to combat obesity at a cellular level is in the sights of a University of Queensland scientist.
Dr Jon Whitehead, from the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrine Research, has identified an enzyme that appears to play a critical role in fat accumulation in cells – an occurrence in which specialised fat cells can expand their lipid stores up to 1000 times.
The enzyme may also be involved in proliferation of these fat cells.
By inhibiting the enzyme in fat cell precursors, Dr Whitehead hopes to halt adipogenesis – the process of fat cell multiplication and lipid accumulation – and ultimately to treat obesity.
“This is an extremely important development in our understanding of adipogenesis and, ultimately, may allow us to develop a novel obesity drug,” Dr Whitehead said.
His research has moved closer to a marketplace reality following his recent win in Trailblazer 2004, an innovation competition run by UniQuest, UQ’s main commercialisation company.
UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson said the company had a provisional patent and was working to secure an investment to progress the research.
“UniQuest was very impressed with Dr Whitehead’s obesity research and we believe it has significant commercial potential,” Mr Henderson said.
“With more than a billion people globally affected by obesity and at increased risk of suffering from health complications such as type two diabetes, there is a clear need for effective medical treatments.”
Until entering the Trailblazer competition Dr Whitehead said he had not given serious consideration to the likelihood that his research could contribute directly to the social and economic benefit of society.
“There was little commercial structure to my thinking because it’s the science that fascinates me, hence I wasn’t focusing on the commercial implications.
“UniQuest prompted me to consider my research in a new way, to look further a field.”