The MNK gene has been uncovered by Australian scientists as having the potential to reverse obesity and prevent type 2 diabetes.
The gene is reported to be involved in weight gain, and while it is present in everyone, it plays a role in obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes when triggered by a high-fat diet.
“This is quite a breakthrough,” said lead researcher Professor Chris Proud, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), who made the discovery.
SAHMRI scientists isolated and blocked the MNK gene – which is found in the liver, muscles and fatty tissues – in mice, and fed them a high-fat diet. They noted the mice with the gene gained significant weight – and showed signs of type 2 diabetes, but those without did not.
Proud’s team report the MNK genes make certain proteins in the body’s cells which lead to weight gain, and hope this discovery could result in a drug being developed that can block the gene.
“Normally (the MNK genes) are not doing anything bad (in the body), but testing in animal models found they were crucial to weight gain when a high-fat diet was consumed,” said Proud.
The MNK gene cannot be deleted in humans, but Proud insists that it works similarly enough in mice and humans for a drug to successfully inhibit weight gain.
“You can’t take the genes out of humans, but we can use a drug which blocks the function of that gene.
“One possibility is if we develop drugs to block the function of these genes then we might have a way of treating or even reverse some of the effects of overeating. It could help prevent people getting type 2 diabetes or improving it if they have it already.”
The SAHMRI team are now planning to work with drug developers to develop a treatment which can block the MNK gene. Human studies are required, and it could be a while before a treatment is reported on. But by combating obesity, a future drug could save billions of pounds annually in health care around the world.

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