SARATOGA SPRINGS -- When researchers connected to Skidmore College gave an antioxidant compound to obese mice, the animals lost 40 percent of their body weight.
"To put that number in context, if a 300-pound obese person lost 40 percent of their body weight, they would have lost 120 pounds," said Jonathan Brestoff Parker, one of the researchers.
Brestoff Parker, a 2008 Skidmore graduate, and Thomas H. Reynolds, an associate professor at the college, have received a patent for their joint discovery that the compound, MnTBAP, shows promise for treating obesity, type 2 diabetes and related disorders.
The pair discovered that treating obese mice with MnTBAP decreased the animals' bulk and curbed type 2 diabetes. The compound -- technically, manganese (III) tetrakis 4-benzoic acid porphyrin -- breaks down triglycerides stored in fat tissue, the researchers found.
Parker and Reynolds hope the discovery eventually leads to the finding that MnTBAP can be used in drugs to prevent or reverse obesity.
"Obesity is a huge public health problem and there are very few drugs that are effective, and most that are effective have very serious side effects," said Reynolds. "So it's a wide open market, but it's a risky market."
It's risky because large sums of money can be lost when drugs in development for years prove to be unsafe or ineffective.
The next step for Brestoff Parker and Reynolds is to conduct further animal studies to ensure MnTBAP is safe to test on people. Then they can pursue human clinical trials -- but they'll need a partner with a track record to do that. Two options are to work with a large drug company or to form their own biotech startup and contract with another firm to conduct the clinical trials, Reynolds said.
The researchers' work into obesity began as Brestoff Parker's senior thesis at Skidmore. His interest in the topic was personal.
"Throughout high school, I was really fat," he said. "I think a lot of kids deal with their body weight and issues surrounding that."
Brestoff Parker lost the weight before he went to college through changing his diet and exercising, he said. Now 28, he is pursuing M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
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