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Penn researchers continue to weigh in on obesity-related problems with two studies released this month focusing on different aspects of the issue.

One study — which identifies a potential mechanism that could be used in the future to create an anti-obesity drug — was led by Matthew Hayes and Harvey Grill from Penn’s Psychology department, and Kendra Bence from the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Obesity puts people at a greater risk of developing other diseases like diabetes. This connection led the three to research certain diabetes drugs that are known to cause weight loss. The drugs all target GLP-1, a hormone associated with regulating both blood glucose levels and food intake.

Although past research has looked at GLP’s role in the gut, the new study looked at how it acts on the brain to suppress hunger. They identified both the part of the brain — the nucleus tractus solitarius — and the cellular pathways that GLP-1 uses to suppress food intake and regulate body weight.

This information is important for developing United States Food and Drug Administration approved treatments in the future. “If you can identify another hormone that acts on the same center in the same pathways, then together you have a combination treatment that is more effective than an individual treatment alone,” he said.

The other study, led by the School of Medicine’s Mitchell Lazar, focuses on fatty liver — one of the leading causes of liver failure — and identifies molecules that work during the day to prevent the liver from accumulating fat.

By observing mice models of human conditions, Lazar and his team discovered that during the day, when most people eat, there is a team of molecules that works to turn off the production of fat in the liver. However, during the night — when most people sleep — these molecules leave, and fat production increases.

Thus, liver fat regulation may be disrupted by abnormal sleeping habits, like those of people who work night shifts.

The next step is to verify that the process Lazar observed in mice also occurs in people. Lazar also explained that knowledge of this type of cycle could be useful for considering what time of day to administer certain types of drugs or treatments.

Lazar is also the director of the Institute of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism at Penn, which focuses on collaborating between departments at Penn for research related in these areas.

“Different approaches to the same problem — that is how to best treat obesity and diabetes — at times come up with synergistic findings,” said Grill, the associate director of IDOM.

“Multiple different people [working together] to is how you get the nice, sexy findings,” Hayes said of the collaboration efforts behind IDOM.

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