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Overweight woman applying medicine injection (© Mauricio - stock.adobe.com)

DARLINGHURST, Australia — A tiny molecule could be the key to unlocking a new wave of drugs that treat obesity and bone diseases, a new study reveals. A team in Australia says this molecule plays a central role in how cells detect physical pressures, such as pushing or pulling. It regulates sensors crucial to numerous human bodily processes, including how nerve cells in our skin register touch.

By understanding the way this molecule works, researchers believe they can design drugs that modify the activity of these sensors. This breakthrough could pave the way for therapies against obesity, bone diseases like osteoporosis, and even some inflammatory conditions.

At the Victor Chang Cardiac Institute, scientists employed advanced Cryo-electron Microscopy to study how their targeted protein molecule interacts with sensors known as PIEZO ion channels. Now that this protein has been pinpointed, there’s potential for it to be refined and transformed into peptide-based therapeutics.

obesity obese man belly fat
Researchers believe if they boost activity in key molecules, it could trigger the brain into thinking the stomach is full.
(Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash)

“These are really key molecules that constantly provide information to the brain such as where our bodies are in space, sensing touch and even pain,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Charles Cox, in a media release. “This interacting molecule we have identified represents a switch enabling us to regulate these channels, widely expressed throughout the body, which is why it could be useful for a whole range of diseases in the future.”

The researchers suggest this “switch” could be activated to counteract obesity. By enhancing the activity of certain molecules, it might convince the stomach that it’s full much sooner than it truly is.

“We believe we will be able to boost the activity in the channels that are involved in the strength of our bones – which could not only help prevent osteoporosis it could help those already suffering. This novel mechanism could also help combat obesity an important risk factor for all cardiovascular diseases,” Dr. Cox elaborates. “As we eat food, our stomachs get stretched and molecules are triggered, telling the brain when the stomach is full. By boosting the activity of these molecules, we may be able to trigger the brain into thinking it was full far earlier mimicking satiety.”

The findings are published in the journal Science.

South West News Service writer James Gamble contributed to this report.

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