Can Neuron Transplants Cure Obesity?

With over one billion adults in the world now considered to be obese, this disease has become an epidemic that has sufferers and medical professionals alike worried for very good reason. Diet and exercise alone doesn’t seem to be work as 95% of dieters regain all or more of their lost weight back. Some obese patients are resorting to expensive and dangerous surgeries to shrink their stomach to hold less food and force them to lose weight. Yet, what if the key to cure obesity isn’t about redesigning the digestive tract, but about restructuring the brain?

The Effect of Leptin on Metabolism

Leptin is a hormone that works in the brain’s hypothalamus to regulate and control appetite. In some obese patients, these hormones are lacking which means that they have uncontrollable appetites. Leptin helps your body to feel sated. If you never feel satisfied after eating, you will eat more and more to not feel hungry. This can lead some patients to become very obese.

Recent studies using mice can offer some hope to those who are obese due to a malfunction in the brain. Researchers transplanted neurons from fetal mouse stem cells into the brains of obese mice that lack the proper leptin receptors to control their appetites. Initial results seem to indicate that the transplanted neurons can replace the faulty neurons and help these mice lose weight.

New Treatment for Obesity

What does this mean for obese humans? Instead of relying on diets that might not work or surgeries that can result in death or injury, doctors can give their obese patients medication or injections to introduce healthy leptin receptors into their brains. Luckily, these fetal cells do not need to be accurately injected right into the brain as they will differentiate themselves even if not in the right place in the brain. This means that a simple pill can potentially help the morbidly obese lose weight.

Stem cell therapy to introduce functioning leptin receptors into the brain will not necessarily make you thin, but it can cut down on instances of morbid obesity. Patients in this obesity category are often the most difficult to treat because surgery can be downright dangerous due to their size. Exercise is often impossible because of severe mobility issues. For these patients, less invasive stem cell therapy can help control their appetites and stimulate weight loss to the point that they can take over with diet and exercise.

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Two of the biggest road blocks to implementing this type of therapy lie both in policy regarding stem cell research and procedure. Due to laws in many countries that prohibit the cultivation and harvesting of fetal stem cells, this type of research has been set back by many years. The human brain is more complicated than the mouse brain. Years of research are required to determine if this therapy is safe for humans. Changes in policy from election to election can affect the course of research into stem cell therapy and delay cures for diseases due to lack of material, funding, and the illegality of the process.

Stem cell therapy isn’t a magic pill that will make extra pounds melt away from anyone who has some weight to lose, but it does offer hope to morbidly obese patients that are often the most medically fragile as well as the most difficult to treat. Being able to rewire the brain to help control hunger can lower instances of diabetes and deaths from complications of obesity. In the war against obesity, fetal stem cell therapy is a potential tool that can raise life expectancy and offer a dramatic increase in quality of life to those who suffer the most due to obesity.

Sources:

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-11-rebuild-brain-circuitry.html

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/11/transplanted-neurons-curb-obesit.html?ref=hp