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Virus Could Help Drive Obesity
Date:8/21/2007

Ad-36 bug pushes stem cells to become fat cells, study finds

TUESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- New research is bolstering the theory that obesity may stem, a least in part, from a common virus -- one that helps create new, heftier fat cells.

The roots of obesity are probably complex and various, the U.S. team stressed. However, their lab tests showed that exposure to adenovirus-36 (Ad-36), which causes respiratory and eye infections, also causes stem cells to develop into fat cells.

This is the first time anyone has identified a viral "fattening effect" in humans, said lead researcher Dr. Magdalena Pasarica, an obesity researcher with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The same team was also the first to have shown that Ad-36 is much more prevalent among obese people than among leaner men and women. In that earlier work, the virus was spotted among 30 percent of obese individuals compared with just 11 percent of non-obese people.

In the new study, "we took this a step further, and showed for the first time that Ad-36 stimulates human adult stem cells to become pre-fat cells and store more fat," said Pasarica.

Her team was scheduled to announce the finding Monday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, held this week in Boston.

Pasarica emphasized that it's not yet been proven that Ad-36 actually causes obesity. Even if that does turn out to be the case, not all people who are infected with the virus will inevitably pack on the pounds.

Nevertheless, the possibility that a virus helps drive some, if not all, cases of obesity raises the notion of a vaccine or anti-viral drug that could be developed to target such infections and fight off fat, the team said.

The potential treatment benefit could be enormous, as underscored by recent U.S. National of Institute of Health (NIH) statistics indicating
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