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A New Pill to Burn Away Unwanted Fat

maceutical company Regeneron said they had found genes called atrogin1 and muRF1 that were active during muscle wasting.

A team at Purdue University, Indiana, has been looking at a gene called erg1.

The drugs might mean that people with broken bones could avoid long and painful physiotherapy sessions to rebuild muscle strength.

Weaning people off respirators would also become easier as doctors could prevent wasting of the diaphragm.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US is also interested in the medicines because astronauts lose muscle mass on long missions.

Experts warn that although the drugs would maintain muscle size, they would not provide any of the other health benefits of regular exercise.

Professor Paul Greenhaff at Nottingham University in the UK who has been conducting similar research into muscle growth and wasting warned of the inherent potential for abuse in such drugs.

He said that the role of exercise had been underplayed.

"Contraction of the muscle itself is important. Exercise itself is the most highly potent stimulus of muscle growth. We must also look closer at nutrition as well."

Dr Julia Thomas at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign said: "In order for this treatment to be truly beneficial it is important that muscle strength is also increased and future trials and research will be key in determining whether this is the case."

She said a pill to prevent muscle loss would unfortunately not be able to change the genetic cause of muscular dystrophy, but might slow down the disease progression.

"It is our hope that if this research becomes a workable drug the concentration of its use will be on serious medical conditions, such as muscular dystrophy, rather than for those desiring a 'gym in a bottle'."
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