Friday, August 01, 2008

Is this the future?

So, apparently there is now a drug which causes sedentary mice to become physically fitter. I found a video on Yahoo, which means that it must be true. Of course the snippet is incredibly vague, referring obliquely to nameless "scientists" and "researchers", as reporters tend to do when they know that the general public won't care too much about the boring details like where it was researched and how it works.

I had to go googling and in a short space of time found myself in science geek-speak overload. I will do my best to summarise what I found, and if it turns to literary spaghetti, then there is always my faithful friend the 'delete' key.

Firstly there are actually two drugs that did good things to mice, one was for exercising mice and one was for sedentary mice. Both worked, but it is the drug that worked on the lazy mice that is getting the most attention from the mainstream media. I have no idea why... who would possibly be interested in hearing that exercise could soon become merely a novelty for the weirdos that don't watch enough TV? As I understand it, the drug for the slothful acts on AMPk (AMP activated kinase) which is a molecule responsible for many of the changes (e.g. increased protein syntyhesis) that occur when the body adapts to endurance exercise. AMPk also increases glucose uptake by the cells, cranks up fatty acid breakdown and decreases the synthesis and storage of fatty acids. AMPk is switched on naturally when your cells use energy, like when you exercise, but, science asked itself, how can we get it to activate if a person isn't exercising? They came up with a drug called AICAR, which seems to do the trick.

The drug for exercising mice acts on receptors that have the cool names of PPARĪ² and PPARĪ“ and are responsible for regulating the rate of fat storage/fat burning. The running endurance of the already-exercising mice increased by 69-70%, which is absolutely huge. Of course there is some token concern that athletes may abuse the drug, but this is not really sensational news. Elite athletes sometimes take drugs.. meh, heard it all before. What has caught public interest is that the slobby mice, taking the AMPk activating drug, increased their running endurance by about 40% and lost fat just by living in the aspired to state of doing nothing....and taking a pill.

According to this article, the research is linked to scientists trying to unravel the exact mechanism by which Resveratrol works. Resveratrol is the potent phytochemical that is found in red wine and a few other plants - we have one such beastie in the factory with the attractive name of Giant Knotweed, quite high in Resveratrol. The researchers haven't unlocked the Resveratrol mystery yet, but instead they did discover the exercise pill and, sadly, we cannot conclude that heaps of red wine will have the same effect.

The idea is that this drug, which is now in late stage human trials, could be useful for people that are bed-ridden (perhaps like Renee Williams) or on severely reduced activity, for example, following heart surgery. I don't know... I think the allure of making squillions of dollars out of anyone who doesn't like to exercise might prove too tempting. The drug only mimics the effect of endurance exercise though, so for those of us who like to build some nice shapely muscle, we still have to lift those weights. Stand by for the invention of the 'bicep' pill and the 'quads' pill, I'm sure someone is working on it.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, so everyone can sit on the couch watching TV and eating pizza and cheesecake, and take their fat-burning pill and their fitness pill. Huzzah!

    Where does that leave those of us who actually like to EARN our results? Are we the crazy ones here?

    How about the mental/emotional side of things? I foresee many, many slim and "fit" people who can't figure out why they're depressed and miserable and struggling to deal with the sorts of issues that trigger food binges.

    But hey, that's no big deal, there are pills for that too.


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