Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard Medical School have discovered a hormone that is secreted during exercise which may provide insight into obesity prevention and the treatment of other diseases. Named irisin, the hormone triggers the body to increase its energy expenditure.
Researcher Bruce Spiegelman has been investigating “brown” fat, which uses energy rather than storing it, as opposed to regular “white” fat. Spiegelman found that irisin causes white fat to behave more like brown fat, and that obese mice who were injected with the hormone experienced higher energy burn and some weight loss. The mice also showed improvements in insulin resistance, which means that it could have a role in treating diabetes. Spiegelman is continuing his research to better understand how the hormone works.
A Boston-based startup company, Ember Therapeutics, has licensed the technology and it working to create a form of the hormone that can be used in therapeutic treatments. “Over the last three years or so, there’s really been an explosion in the work and discoveries in the brown fat area,” says Lou Tartaglia, chief executive of Ember Therapeutics. He hopes that treatments that increase energy usage will be safer than drugs that suppress appetite because they would not effect the functioning of the central nervous system or the brain.