Gene therapy for obesity "on the way"

Obesity is associated with many human diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, tumors, and apnea syndrome, which are fatal.

Being overweight has a negative effect, causing various psychological and social problems. Obesity is also considered a serious aggravating factor in the severe form of COVID-19.

The total number of overweight and obese children in Greece is 33.6%, which means that more than 3 in 10 children are overweight or obese. This percentage is one of the highest in the world, indicating a serious national problem that is almost epidemic proportions.

Obesity treatment is a complex issue for doctors and patients, requiring an individual approach. Therefore, scientists are tackling this problem, hoping to understand the genetic predisposition of people to obesity, or how you can use genetic engineering to protect people from this scourge.

A recent publication in the journal Science showed that 16 rare variants of alleles associated with obesity have been identified. Some of them are associated with body mass index (BMI) and are G protein receptors expressed by the brain. The variant allele was found in low-frequency Mexican populations and was associated with a lower BMI.

Notably, deletion of this gene (GPR75) in mice resulted in weight gain, suggesting that this gene provides a way to study or prevent obesity by identifying major coding compounds and drug targets.

Recall that in July this year, the World Health Organization released two reports at once, which set out the first-ever global recommendations for editing the human genome. According to WHO experts, it can become an effective and safe tool for protecting public health.

The publication of the reports is the result of a multilateral global consultation on human genome editing. The work, which lasted more than two years, was attended by hundreds of scientists and researchers, religious, political and social leaders, as well as representatives of indigenous peoples from different countries.

“Editing the human genome can greatly enhance our ability to treat many dangerous diseases,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus. “However, this technology can only be fully implemented if it is aimed at the benefit of all people and does not exacerbate inequality.”

The potential benefits of editing the human genome lie in the possibility of faster and more accurate diagnosis, as well as effective treatment and prevention of genetic disorders. Somatic gene therapy, which alters a patient’s DNA, has previously been used successfully to treat HIV and other serious illnesses.

In the long term, this revolutionary method can also significantly improve the effectiveness of the treatment of various types of cancer. However, at the same time, certain risks remain – genetic changes can be passed on to future generations, modifying the physiological characteristics of the offspring.

“The reports of the WHO expert advisory committee represent a breakthrough in the fast-growing field of science like genetic engineering,” said WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Sumiya Swaminathan. “As scientists move boldly in the study of the human genome, we need to minimize risks and identify the levers by which science can improve health in all corners of the planet.”

In the near future, WHO is going to convene an expert committee to develop the next steps towards safe genetic engineering, as well as tighter oversight of clinical trials of those gene technologies that are still of public concern.

In addition, WHO plans to bring together stakeholders from various fields of science and medicine to develop an accessible mechanism for confidential warning of illegal, unregistered, unethical or unsafe research on editing the human genome.

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