Obesity Vaccine Uses Immune System to Fight Weight Gain

By Chelsea Whyte on July 9, 2012 10:01 PM EDT

waist measuring tape
Trying to slim your waistline? An obesity vaccine may be on the way. (Photo: Creative Commons: Helga Weber)

A vaccine against weight loss sounds too good to be true, and it may be just that. Researchers from Braasch Biotech LLC have successfully induced weight loss in mice using a vaccine that inhibits the body's growth hormone, curbing weight gain.

They tested a vaccination with modified somatostatin, a peptide hormone that inhibits growth hormone  (GH) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) - both of which work to increase the body's metabolism and result in weight loss. The vaccine identifies somatostatin as a threat to the body, prompting the production of antibodies that fight it and allowing GH and IGF-1 to flourish.

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In the study, which is published in the Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, twenty mice were fed a high fat diet for 8 weeks prior to the study, followed by six weeks on the same diet with half of them receiving the vaccine and half getting placebo injections. The shots were given twice - the first at the start of the six-week study period, and the booster vaccination 22 days later.

Just four days after the first injection, the vaccinated mice had dropped 10 percent of their body weight, as  opposed to the control mice who maintained their weight. By the end of the study, the vaccines had successfully induced antibodies to somatostatin without affecting normal levels of growth hormone or insulin and significantly reduced the body weight of the mice, researchers said.

The mice on the two different vaccines - called JH17 and JH18 - ended up with a 4 and 7 percent increase in body weight, respectively. The control mice saw a 15 percent jump in body weight after 6 weeks.

"This study demonstrates the possibility of treating obesity with vaccination", study lead Keith Haffer said. "Although further studies are necessary to discover the long term implications of these vaccines, treatment of human obesity with vaccination would provide physicians with a drug- and surgical- free option against the weight epidemic."

Not everyone is convinced that this could be a potential solution for obese humans, though. The National Health Service of Great Britain posted today on its blog that, "These vaccinations are not ready for human testing. A treatment that allows people to continue to eat whatever they like and not gain weight is nothing more than fantasy."

The post goes on to say that even though the mice initially lost weight, they continue to gain weight on their high-fat diet after the first dose of the vaccine, and that the initial weight loss was so drastic that the researchers had to lower the dosage for the booster shot out of concern for the health of the mice.

They also note the researchers said that if the volume of the vaccine given to the mice was scaled up for humans, it would have to be a 1.6 liter shot to have the same effect in a person.

According to the Business Standard, the researchers cautioned that they were in early stage of their research and such a vaccine could take around seven years to hit the market.

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