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Efforts To Lose Weight Stalled By Stored Fat, Scientists Discover: The Gene Getting In People's Way

Cravings, stress, and laziness (hey, us too) can all influence weight gain, but what about your genes? A new study from the University of Cambridge has found a gene that triggers the body to store fat, and as a result, this stored fat makes it harder for people to lose weight.
"Our discovery may help explain why overweight individuals find it incredibly hard to lose weight," said the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Whittle, a metabolic researcher at the University of Cambridge, in a press release. "Their stored fat is actively fighting against their efforts to burn it off at the molecular level." For the study, Whittle and his colleagues examined mice missing the gene responsible for producing the protein sLR11.

This particular protein suppresses the entire fat burning process, so without sLR11 circulating through the blood, mice were far more resistant to weight gain by burning calories faster. When researchers looked at humans, they found the more they weighed, the more sLR11 protein they had in their blood. Researchers then looked to obese patients who underwent bariatric surgery for additional answers. After patients' surgery, there was a significant drop in sLR11 levels, leading researchers to believe the protein is produced by fat cells.

The protein was designed to slow the body from burning too much fat following large meals or drops in temperature, because when fat burns it creates heat known as "thermogenesis." Researchers suspect that protein sLR11's role may be to make a more effective storing system in the body to maintain energy and body temperature over long periods of time. Next, they want to target the thermogenesis process with drugs and manipulate it into burning fat at a faster rate. With more than one-third of the United States obese, a safe drug that controls metabolism could significantly curb nationwide rates.

"This research could stimulate the development of new drugs that either help reduce obesity by blocking the action of this protein or control weight loss by mimicking its action," said Jeremy Pearson, the associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, in a press release. "But an effective medicine to treat obesity, which safely manages weight loss is still some way off. In the meantime people can find advice on healthy ways to lose weight and boost their heart health."