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Obesity link significant find – Tony Merriman and Dave Grattan

Posted in Reflections On Science on July 28th, 2016.

Writing in the Otago Daily Times, University of Otago Professors Tony Merriman and Dave Grattan discuss the significance of new researching finding the strongest genetic link with obesity to date.

DNA Molecular StructureAn excerpt (read in full here).

Tony Merriman and Dave Grattan: Significant to have found gene with link to obesity

If we want to solve the obesity problem, we really need to understand the many different biological drivers that lead to obesity – the way our appetite is controlled, the way we absorb food, the way we store fat and the way we regulate energy expenditure.

This is where genetics is so powerful. Our genes are inherited at conception and begin working straight away. So if a gene is associated with obesity then we know that the biological pathway it is in (e.g. hunger control) causes obesity.

This gives us a strong evidence base to design better drugs to help people struggling with obesity, or better, to prevent it from happening. The increased scientific knowledge will allow better medical and behavioural interventions approaches to counter obesity.

The recent genetic study in Samoa is a landmark study that identifies a new gene that increases risk of weight gain. This in itself is a very important scientific finding, but the fact that this gene at the same time protects people from type-2 diabetes shows that the biology linking obesity and type-2 diabetes is more complex than we first thought.

Not only are these results important for Samoan people, they will contribute to understanding in other populations. We hope the ongoing genetic study of Maori and Pacific New Zealanders we are doing with the Maurice Wilkins Centre will fill in gaps in our understanding of the causes of obesity and diabetes in New Zealand.

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