A cure for obesity could be found in human skin, according to new research.
Scientists at Columbia University Medical Centre (CUMC) and the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) successfully converted human skin cells into appetite-controlling neurons for the first time.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigatio, may hold the key to an obesity cure. Obesity increases the risk of a number of metabolic diseases and medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer.
First of all, the scientists reprogrammed the skin cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which can turn into any kind of adult cell if provided with the right molecular signals. iPS cells have been used to make a number of different cells, including insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas for diabetes.
The researchers then programmed the iPS cells into arcuate hypothalamic neurons, which regulate appetite.
They were successful, and the new neurons performed key functions of arcuate hypothalamic neurons in mice, such as responding to insulin, lepti, and other metabolic signals.
If future research is successful, the neurons may contribute to a cure for obesity. This, in turn, could lower the incidence of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and some kinds of cancer.
However, it is not the finished product. The artificial neurons are not the same as real ones. But being able to program them from skin cells has a lot of scientific potential, and could make a significant contribution to the development of therapeutic solutions to obesity.
Susan L. Solomo, CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundatio, said: “This is a wonderful example of several institutions coming together to collaborate and advance research in pursuit of new therapeutic interventions. The ability to make this type of neuron brings us one step closer to the development of new treatments for obesity.”
Rudolph L. Leibel, senior author of the study, explained: “We don’t think these neurons are identical to natural hypothalamic neurons, but they are close and will still be useful for studying the neurophysiology of weight control, as well as molecular abnormalities that lead to obesity.
“In addition, these cells will allow us to evaluate potential obesity drugs in a way never before possible.”

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