Antwerp scientists manage breakthrough in understanding obesity

Scientists of Antwerp University (UA) and the Antwerp University Hospital (UZA) have made a major breakthrough in obesity research together with colleagues from abroad. They discovered a new type of gene that is believed to play an important role in the development of the disease.

Researchers of the UZA and the UA's Centre for Medical Genetics made the discovery by comparing the genetic data of a whole number of patients. Every patient treated by the UA, was monitored from close by. For several years, data were collected in files which also included DNA-samples.

"Obesity is a very complex matter", explains Professor Doctor Wim Van Hul of the UA. "We call it a multifactorial disease. On the one hand,  factors like physical exercise and food are playing a role, but on the other you have to look at the genetic aspect."

The newly discovered gene is a so-called "lipid sensor". This means that it determines to which extent lipids are being stored in the body", explains the Professor. "We need further research, but this is an important first step." The theory can be explained with an example: if two persons eat the same amount of fish and chips, one person's metabolism will store more fat in the body that the other, regardless of physical exercise or sports.

Researchers are hoping to find a way to eliminate or suppress the ill-effects of a mal-functioning gene in patients suffering from obesity. This would allow them to use it for treating patients who have a malfunctioning gene. The discovery has been published in the scientific journal "Nature."