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Gene therapy could protect against obesity and insulin resistance

Gene therapy with a protein called BMP4 has been shown to protect against weight gain and insulin resistance in a new study on mice.
BMP4 (Bone Morphogenetic Protein 4) plays an important role in the development of fat cells, and researchers believe greater understanding of the protein could increase treatment options for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Scientists at the University of Gothenburg fed mice a high-calorie, energy-rich diet and injected them with a harmless virus that carried BMP4.
They hoped to observe how BMP4 regulated white, beige and brown fat in the body. White fat is known to store and release fat, brown fat cells burn fat and produce heat, and beige fat cells can burn fat upon activation.
Among the mice that were initially lean BMP4 led to the white fat becoming more beige, while brown fat become whiter.
Lead author Jenny Hoffman explained: “So there’s a negative effect on the brown fat and a positive effect on the white fat, but the positive outweighs the negative and the mice have improved metabolic health. They are protected from weight gain and do not get insulin resistance, a marker for risk of type 2 diabetes.”
The mice that were overweight prior to BMP4 injection reacted differently. This gene therapy offered no protection from further weight gain, though it was positive in lessening the effects of insulin resistance. The animals were shown to already have higher levels of their own BMP4 protein, so they were resistant to the effects of BMP4 in terms of the positive effects on fat cells.
Hoffman concluded that identifying the effects of BMP4 on the body, specifically the abdomen, liver and muscles, could be useful towards combating type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other health complications linked to obesity.
The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.
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