Science Market Update

Harvard Biology Research Isolates Hormone Response to Exercise, Towards Obesity Treatment?

Posted by Jaimee Saliba on Mon, Feb 06, 2012

"There has been a feeling in the field that exercise 'talks to' various tissues in the body, but the question has been, how?"

Anyone who has spent half an hour on the treadmill and evaluated the number of calories burned knows that there's more to the health and weight-loss benefits of working out than that number quantifies.  Scientists have also been at work trying to accurately describe what happens at the cellular level during and after sustained periods of exercise, and it seems Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute cell biologist Bruce Spiegelman and his colleagues have made a major research breakthrough that is already en route to therapeutic development for the potential treatment of diabetes and obesity.

What Dr. Spiegelman (above quote) and his Harvard biology research associate, Dr. Pontus Bostroöm, have discovered and published in Nature, is a hormone they have isolated and named irisin. The protein is triggered by exercise and signals the body to turn white fat into brown fat, which it burns more rapidly.  In their laboratory research, they injected obese mice with the irisin hormone and found that, within 10 days of treatment, the rodents' blood sugar and insulin levels stabilized – preventing the onset of diabetes – and they lost weight. The dosage they gave the mice was equivalent to getting regular exercise, and no toxicity resulted from the injections, presumably because the hormone is found naturally in the body. 

Given the lack of side-effects and the fact that the mouse and human forms of the protein are identical, Spiegelman believes it should be possible to move an irisin-based drug rapidly into clinical testing, perhaps within two years.  The irisin discovery has already been licensed by Dana-Farber to a Boston-based startup co-founded by Spiegelman and scientists at the nearby Joslin Diabetes Center, who have also been studying brown fat tissue as a key to treatment of their patients. 

For a long time it was believed that brown fat was only present in babies and children. (Remember that "baby fat" that kept you warm when you were little, then mostly dropped away as you hit puberty?) Subsequent research has shown that this good brown fat is still present in smaller quantities in adults, and that its promise lies in the way it stimulates thermogenesis and burns extra calories in conjunction with aerobic exercise. 


Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. will be on the Harvard Medical School campus on March 22nd, 2012 for our 6th Annual Boston BioResearch Product Faire event.  With life sciences researchers from Harvard Medical, Dana-Farber, Joslin Diabetes, Children's Hospital, and other institutions in the Longwood medical neighborhood attending, this is an excellent opportunity for scientists and laboratory equipment suppliers to network and discuss their research needs and solutions.  For information on exhibiting, click the button below; to see our 2012 show schedule, click here.

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Tags: Northeast, Joslin Diabetes Center, cell biology, Massachusetts, Boston, Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

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