Scientists believe new injection could offer a 'cure' for obesity
An injection that helps people lose more than a stone in just four weeks has been developed by British scientists in a breakthrough hailed as 'the most exciting' treatment ever found for tackling obesity.
Scientists at Imperial College are currently completing human trials into the treatment but confirmed that patients naturally ate 30pc less food after being treated with the hormone injection which mimics the effect of a gastric band.
The injection was so successful some patients were able to come off diabetes medication.
Lead researcher Professor Steve Bloom, head of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism at Imperial, said he hoped to create a therapy within five years which was effective as bariatric surgery, but could be administered as a small painless monthly injection.
His team is due to publish its research in a medical journal shortly.
"It is going to be the most exciting agent for improving health that has yet been discovered," he said.
"Obesity has become a tremendous burden on our society. The whole of our society is overweight. It increases your risk of cancer. Your chances of heart disease and stroke increase with obesity. If you are arthritic, it is worse. Almost everything is worse.
"We are living longer and longer but that process has come to a halt because we are killing ourselves with obesity. It's a very serious problem yet just telling people to eat less and to exercise more doesn't work."
Initially it was thought that gastric band surgery worked by reducing the amount of food held in the stomach. But patients were found to have elevated levels of satiety hormones, the chemical signals released by the gut to control digestion and hunger cravings in the brain.
Gastric band recipients also began to prefer less fatty foods, suggesting the hormones were also altering cravings.
The new therapy reproduces those hormones, mirroring the effect, without surgery.
And unlike surgery, doctors would also be able to vary the dose so that it could be used not only by the obese but also those who just want to control their diet, said Professor Bloom.
The Imperial trial involved 20 patients who took a cocktail of three hormones through a patch and a pump for 28 days and saw weight losses of between 4lb and 1.2 stone - almost as good as results from surgery. The team is due to publish its results shortly.
"While wearing the pump, you feel less hungry and you stop eating earlier," said Professor Tricia Tan, a consultant in diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic medicine at Imperial, who formulated the hormones.
"The sensation is like after you have eaten a big meal. What is even more exciting is that we are able to normalise blood sugar levels and they can come off diabetes medications."
James Hopkins (38), an operations manager in supported living care services, was recommended for the trial at Imperial by his GP after an eight-year battle to control his weight after gaining 12 stone to weigh 27 stone after contracting meningitis.
He said the effects were immediate as he went on to lose nearly one stone in just 28 days: "It was an almost instant reaction to it without feeling anything. There is an uncanny reaction the first time you go to eat or drink something, you feel full within a few bites.
"When you are overweight, you generally wake up and feel sluggish and lose energy quickly when you walk. With the hormones, I ended up feeling I could walk any distance. There was no task in the day that was going to get me down."
He said it also made sweet food less attractive: "I was aware of the attraction to sugary things being reduced. Even if you have fresh fruit like a Golden Delicious, which is a sweet apple, it's not appealing at all."
Professor Bloom said that the researchers believed they could improve the balance of hormones so that it was as effective as bariatric surgery, which carries a 0.5pc risk of death.
"The hormones are mimicking our physiology," added Prof Bloom. "It's not likely therefore to do you any harm. We feel reasonably confident this will be a safe medication."