Scientists have found that a drug developed for cancer treatment also helped monkeys lose a significant amount of weight. And it's only mildly kidney-shredding!
According to the LA Times, researchers tested a drug called adipotide, which has its roots in treatments for brain, colon, lung, and kidney cancer, on some obese baboons and rhesus macaques. MSNBC points out that these primates were special:
[T]he scientists did not use monkeys that were made genetically obese or forced to become fat in some other way. They chose the animals in the colony that tended to eat more and exercise less. They were "couch potatoes" of the simian colony [...]
One group of ten obese macaques lost 11% of their weight and 39% of their fat after treatment with the drug, which works by inhibiting blood flow to fat cells. They also showed improvement in metabolic function. And they regained their hourglass figures, so important to monkey modeling careers: says study author Kirstin Barnhart, "They were getting their waistlines back so we were staring to see the effect. It was such an important milestone for the drug." The monkeys also continued to lose some weight after the drug was discontinued, though they later gained it back.
As with many weight-loss drugs, there are safety concerns. Adipotide appeared to cause dehydration, drops in potassium and phosphorus levels, and "small kidney lesions." The researchers seem relatively unconcerned with these lesions — the study abstract calls them "predictable and reversible changes." Still, scientists agree that the drug will need to be tested further to make sure it's safe for humans. It's also worth noting that it's hard to ask monkeys how they feel — the research apparently noticed no "nausea or discomfort" in the treated macaques, but the monkeys may have experienced physical or psychological effects that weren't obvious to researchers.
Even if it is proven safe, the drug may not be a panacea. Chris Anzalone, CEO of the company that's developing adipotide for the market, says, "My sense is this will never be intended for long-term use. Sometime after the drug, we believe that lifestyle changes will have to take over." And Barnhart sees the drug as a form of inspiration: "How energizing would it be to lose 11 percent that first month. That's going to really get you focused." Whether something that merely "gets you focused" is worth the possibility of (small!) kidney lesions remains to be seen.
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