In Brief
  • Obesity affects more than 600 million adults and around 41 million children under the age of 5 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Researchers may have found a way to halt the development of both type 2 diabetes and obesity in humans using a recently discovered protein.

Deadly combo

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is one of the most common health conditions in the world. It affects more than 600 million adults and around 41 million children under the age of 5. Of these, more than 29 million are in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The consequences of obesity can be as serious as heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes, which the CDC reports around 29 million Americans have. Now, researchers from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium may have found a way to halt the development of both type 2 diabetes and obesity in humans, using a recently discovered protein.

For 10 years now, scientists Patrice Cani, a WELBIO researcher at the Louvain Drug Research Institute, and Willem de Vos of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, have been studying a bacterium called Akkermansia muciniphila, and have realized that this bacteria is found in smaller levels in obese mice. Treating mice with A. muciniphila seemed to reverse several metabolic disorders that led to obesity.

Credits: Microbiology Society
Credits: Microbiology Society

An unexpected discovery

In a study published in the journal Nature Medicine, Cani and de Vos discovered something more. Since December 2015, Akkermansia-based treatment trials for humans have been ongoing. While the effects are yet to be conclusive, it’s clear that the treatment isn’t harmful to humans — after all, A. muciniphila is one of the more common gut bacteria.

Then something came up. They discovered that pasteurization had very positive effects on the bacterium. “Unexpectedly, we discovered that pasteurization of A. muciniphila enhanced its capacity to reduce fat mass development, insulin resistance and dyslipidemia in mice,” says the study.

Pasteurization, it would seem, makes the bacterium effective because it kills off everything else in A. muciniphila except for a protein — the genetically engineered version of it is called Amuc_1100. When tested on mice, this protein appeared to be good for the immune system, blocking toxins from reaching the bloodstream, and strengthening intestinal immunity.

Amuc_1100 is the key to how A. muciniphila can combat obesity in mice. In the near future, it’s expected to be able to do the same thing in humans.