More than half the world will be overweight by 2035

But there is hope in an innovative approach to combat obesity

Obesity is a multifaceted condition, not yet fully understood by the scientific community. A recent study published in Nature Metabolism has revealed that obesity can potentially modify an individual's brain activity, leading to an impact on how the brain responds to food, particularly in terms of satiety signals. These changes in brain function persist even after significant weight loss among obese individuals. Consequently, researchers suggest that this could be a contributing factor to the weight regain experienced by many. Moreover, they argue that since obesity causes structural alterations in the brain, it warrants being recognised as a disease.

Individuals with a body mass index (BMI) exceeding 30 are classified as obese, while a BMI between 18 and 25 is considered within the normal range. The recently released 2023 atlas by the World Obesity Foundation presents a worrying prediction: if significant action is not taken, over half the global population―more than 4 billion―will be overweight by 2035. The report also reveals a startling projection for childhood obesity―the number of affected boys could more than double from 2020, reaching 208 million by 2035, while the number of affected girls may reach 175 million. According to the federation's estimates, addressing health conditions associated with obesity will require an annual expenditure of over $4 trillion by 2035 globally.

In the context of combating obesity, a recent discovery has gained significance. A team of scientists from the University of Barcelona has unveiled an innovative approach in the form of ex vivo gene therapy―gene modifications done outside the body―to combat obesity. Gene therapy involves the introduction of genetically modified cells to target a specific disease. The study, which was recently published in Metabolic Engineering, asserts that it is a first-of-its-kind approach to employ ex vivo gene therapy to generate and implant cells that produce the CPT1AM protein―an enzyme found in the mitochondria that plays a crucial role in the development of metabolic disorders, including obesity.

Adipose tissues―connective tissues in the body―predominantly consist of adipocytes or fat cells. These adipocytes function as energy-storing cells, provide cushioning for organs and produce hormones. Researchers in Barcelona aimed to generate adipocytes capable of expressing an active variant of the CPT1A enzyme responsible for mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation. Their findings revealed that this active form, known as CPT1AM, effectively facilitated the burning of excess fat and improved metabolism in obese mice. CPT1AM was found to reduce weight, hepatic steatosis (fatty liver), as well as cholesterol and glucose levels in mice.

While the study is yet to be conducted on humans, researchers suggest that this preclinical investigation may pave the way for advanced therapeutic solutions in the coming years to tackle obesity and high cholesterol issues.