Researchers have suggested that a cancer drug that works by inhibiting the growth of blood vessels might also help reduce fat.
It has been long known that cancerous tumors grow collections of abnormal blood cells, the fuel that feeds this disease and keeps it growing.
Now, new evidence in an animal model suggests that blood vessels in the fat tissue of obese individuals could provide the same purpose—and could provide the key to a new way for people to lose weight.
When researchers Jian-Wei Gu, Kristina L. Makey, Edmund Chinchar, Carissa Howie, and Lucio Miele, all from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, gave obese mice the cancer drug, known as Sunitinib, these mice lost about 70 percent of their fat mass.
More than a decade ago, Judah Folkman of Harvard Medical School, whose primary research focus was the growth of blood vessels in cancerous tumors, discovered that fat tissue in mice could be regulated by angiogenesis inhibitors—drugs that restrain the growth of blood vessels. However, Gu explained, Folkman never pursued this line of research further before his death in 2008.
Building upon Folkman''s single paper published on this topic in 2002, Gu, who studies the role of fat tissue in cancer, decided to test whether a drug already developed to inhibit blood vessels for cancer treatment might also reduce fat.
He and his colleagues administered Sunitinib, the drug approved to treat kidney and gastrointestinal tumors, to a mouse model of postmenopausal obesity. These animals, which had their ovaries removed at a young age to put them in premature menopause and fed four weeks of a high fat diet to promote obesity, received Sunitinib daily for two weeks either orally or through abdominal injections. These animals were compared to those of the same model who didn''t receive the drug.
After this treatment, researchers found that the mice who received Sunitinib lost significant amounts of weight, with an average loss of 70 percent fat mass.
However, noted Gu, their lean mass remained unaffected. Both mice who received the drug orally and those who received abdominal injections lost similar amounts of fat.
In addition to fat loss, Sunitinib also seemed to curb the animals'' appetites, with those receiving the drug eating less food once treatment was complete—possibly a side effect of losing the fat and the hormones it sends to the brain to stimulate food intake, Gu said.
Gu emphasizes that more research is necessary before this drug can be tested for human weight loss.
The team discussed an abstract of their study at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Boston, Mass.