Developing FGF21 into a treatment is challenging, Li said, because the molecule isn't stable in the blood. That means any treatment developed from the natural protein might require frequent injections, he said.
In the current research, Li and his colleagues took a different approach. Instead of looking at FGF21, the researchers attempted to find other, more stable ways to activate the same pathways activated by FGF21.
The researchers engineered an alternative in the lab -- an antibody called mimAb1. They tested the new antibody on 10 obese monkeys and compared them to another 10 obese monkeys in a control group.
The monkeys in the treatment group received two injections -- one the first week and another the third week. Five to six weeks after the first injection the monkeys had lost 10 percent of their body weight. The reductions in body weight were maintained at least nine weeks after the second injection.
What's more, the weight loss appeared to occur even without a significant reduction in calories, Li said.
In addition to weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity, the animals' abdominal circumference and body-mass index (BMI) decreased. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.
"When we tested mimAb1 in the animal model, we saw a lot of beneficial changes. The results were quite encouraging," Li said. He added that they didn't see any significant side effects, including low blood sugar levels.
Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the study was well done, but it's very preliminary.
"There is promise here. This pathway has beneficial effects when turned on, and needs to be looked into further," Mezitis said. "We have to make sure it works the same way in humans, and that it's safe. This might take years to pan out."
He said it's also possible that although this par
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