A way to turn off the genes that are making us fat
The Prescription: What if a simple injection could silence the genetic culprits that fuel weight gain, coercing cells to burn more fat and be more responsive to changing insulin levels? That´s precisely the sort of treatment now being developed by biochemist Michael Czech and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The key to their approach is a technique called RNA interference, or RNAi, one of the body´s natural self-defense mechanisms. In broad strokes, when a virus, for instance, invades a cell,
it passes on its genetic code through
double-stranded RNA. The cell recognizes the RNA as an invader, dices it up into tiny pieces called short-interfering RNA, and attacks any genes that bind to it.
In the past year, Czech has used RNAi to silence 1,000 genes in cultured adipose tissue, a.k.a. fat. The process would have taken them decades without RNAi-now they simply introduce bits of RNA that match the target genes, inducing the cells to shut the genes down. With certain key genes disabled, the researchers learned that the tissue can be more responsive to insulin levels, suck more glucose out of the blood, and actually burn fatty acids instead of storing them as new fat cells.
When?: 2010 or later.