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Genetic Tweak Helps Mice Avoid Cancer, Obesity: Study
Date:3/6/2012

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, March 6 (HealthDay News) -- New research offers potential insight into the connection between cancer, obesity and longevity in humans by showing that genetically modified mice live longer, skinnier and almost cancer-free lives.

There are quite a few differences between mice and humans, especially in regard to the type of fat that's apparently affected by the genetic tweak, so there's no way to know if the research could lead to benefits in humans. Even if medications based on the research are developed, no one knows what the side effects in people might be or their eventual cost.

Still, a potential drug "could have two benefits: adding some extra protection against cancer and protecting us from overeating," said Manuel Serrano, senior group leader at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid and co-author of a study appearing in the March issue of Cell Metabolism.

At issue is a gene called Pten that boosts the body's cancer-fighting powers. Mutations in the gene can contribute to the development of cancer.

The researchers genetically engineered mice to have extra copies of the gene. The mice didn't suffer from side effects, Serrano said, and they managed to live 15 percent longer than other mice and suffer from less cancer.

He acknowledged, however, that figuring out a mouse's cause of death can be a challenge.

Mice that ate a high-fat diet also managed to be leaner, suggesting that the genetic tweak affected their ability to gain weight even when they would normally be packing on the extra ounces.

Serrano said the key seems to be the tweak's effect on something known as brown fat.

Both mice and humans have brown fat, but it's better understood in mice, he noted. In mice, it appears to burn regular "white fat" and be activated when it's cold or when the mice eat too much, Serrano said.

"Brown fat is very abu
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