MEDICS in Sheffeld have paved the way for the creation of revolutionary new drugs to prevent complications in people who are severely obese or far too thin.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield say their new findings could lead to treatments to stop overweight people developing conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
And people suffering malnutrition could be treated to stop them becoming infertile or developing problems with their immune system.
Medical researchers have for the first time defined the structure of a key part of the human obesity receptor - an essential factor in the regulation of body fat.
The new research, published in the journal Structure, will allow drugs to be developed to block or stimulate the receptor for the obesity hormone leptin.
Professor of endocrinology Richard Ross said: “This pioneering research gives us the potential to generate new drugs that could treat conditions and diseases associated with obesity such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“Modulating the actions of the obesity receptor provides a novel approach to the treatment of conditions associated with both obesity and anorexia and has the potential to make a massive difference to millions of people whose quality of life and health is hindered by obesity or malnutrition.”
Researchers solved the complex crystal structure of the obesity receptor using state of the art X-ray crystallography, helping them work out how to block or stimulate the receptor.
Leptin, the obesity hormone, predisposes overweight people to conditions such as multiple sclerosis and heart disease.
A deficiency in leptin, as occurs in malnutrition, results in infertility and immunodeficiency.
Blocking the receptor, and therefore the excessive actions of leptin, could prevent the complications of obesity, while stimulating the receptor may improve fertility and the immune response.
Professor Pete Artymiuk, from the university’s department of molecular biology and biotechnology, said: “The human obesity receptor binds the hormone leptin and together they play a key role in regulating appetite, fertility and immunity.
“Because we now know the precise atomic structure of the receptor we can begin to design drug molecules that can alter its activity.”