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Discoveries made in the laboratories of Sanford-Burnham will, for the first time, advance to the clinical research stage involving human studies at the Florida Hospital – Sanford-Burnham Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes (TRI). The research will focus on orexin, an appetite-inducing hormone produced in the brain, which appears to resolve obesity without requiring a reduction in food consumption or elevation in physical activity.

“At the center of our study,” said Devanjan Sikder, D.V.M., Ph.D., assistant professor in Sanford-Burnham’s Diabetes and Obesity Research Center, “is an anti-obesity strategy that does not rely on reducing food intake. Instead, we focus on the energy expenditure and feeding-inducing properties of orexin.” He added, “My team has discovered that orexin activates calorie-burning brown fat, which we consider to be ‘good’ fat, and evidence strongly suggests that human obesity can arise from brown fat dysfunction.” Recent data indicate that orexin leads to weight loss by releasing excess energy as heat instead of storing it.

“Advancing this orexin research to the TRI is a crucial first step in translating fundamental research at Sanford-Burnham to the clinical phase,” said Steven Smith, M.D., director of the TRI. “At the TRI we will conduct proof-of-concept experiments to validate this new drug target and test it for safety and efficacy.”

So far, orexin has only been tested in mouse models, where it has been shown to reduce fat by 50 percent, even under conditions of caloric excess. The fat loss is due to an elevation in the metabolic rate. During the study at the TRI, scientists will conduct clinical testing to assess orexin’s mode of action, efficacy and how it works in the human body, as well as evaluate the hormone’s acute effect in stimulating energy expenditure.

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