The discovery of how an “obesity gene” functions could lead to a cure for obesity and prevent many cases of type 2 diabetes, according to new research.
The study, conducted by researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School, builds on previous research, which discovered a link between a gene called FTO and obesity. People with higher Body Mass Index’s (BMI) tend to carry a variant of FTO. Previous studies have been unable to work out how FTO actually relates to obesity.
This study suggests that a “faulty version” of FTO prevents the burning of energy from food. Instead, it is all stored as fat. This occurs because fault FTO genes activate two other genes, known as IRX3 and IRX5. These genes control the conversion of energy into heat; by preventing it, they cause it to be stored as fat instead.
“Obesity has traditionally been seen as the result of an imbalance between the amount of food we eat and how much we exercise, but this view ignores the contribution of genetics to each individual’s metabolism,” said senior author Manolis Kellis.
Obesity is an increasingly common health condition, and one of the major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes – although it is not the only possible cause. Obesity also increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, and other health conditions.
The researchers hope to use their findings to develop drugs to prevent the FTO-related problems with fat storage. By doing so, they may reduce the rates of obesity and thereby prevent many cases of type 2 diabetes.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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