Imagine an injection that could prevent you from eating an entire tray of Oreos when you just meant to have one, or staring longingly at the Wendy's menu when you're supposed to be "clean eating" after a holiday bender. Visualise not even wanting to stuff your face with pizza after a long, stressful day—all thanks to a quick shot. Such a remedy sounds like an easy, painless way to lose weight, but it would probably make one of life's great pleasures a lot less, well, pleasurable.
For now, we can continue through that never-ending cycle of hunger and overeating, desire and guilt that makes us human. But according to the growing body of scientific research designed to help fight weight gain, this kind of injection could one day be a possibility for preventing obesity and other diet-related health conditions.
In a new study entitled "Long-acting MIC-1/GDF15 molecules to treat obesity: Evidence from mice to monkeys," researchers focused on a protein called growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15), which has been linked to metabolism and weight loss. Building on prior evidence from mice, rats, and monkeys, the authors of the study suggest in the abstract of their article that their updated version GDF15 could be "be potential therapeutic agents for the treatment of obesity and related comorbidities" in humans.
According to the New Scientist, that's a big deal, since other researchers in the past have tried to create obesity treatments with GDF15—which is produced naturally in the bodies of humans, mice, rats, and monkeys—though none succeeded because "it breaks down too quickly in the bloodstream to work."
The New Scientist also pointed out that weekly injections of this new and improved GDF15 caused obese monkeys to eat roughly half as much food as they did before, lose 10 percent of their body weight, and made them "less likely to develop type 2 diabetes."
The longer-lasting GDF15 created in this most recent study has "a longer half-life and would thus be a better candidate for clinical testing," according to its authors, who added: "Furthermore, we discovered that GDF15 delayed gastric emptying, changed food preference, and activated area postrema neurons, confirming a role for GDF15 in the gut-brain axis responsible for the regulation of body energy intake."
This protein is involved in an array of weight-related systems that are a little too complicated for us to fully understand, and trials in humans will be necessary before drawing definitive conclusions about its effects and implications. But the most jarring thing in the above enumeration—one that we understand quite well—is that it has the possibility of changing our food preferences.
The lead researcher of the group, Murielle Véniant, who is also the Scientific Executive Director at the pharmaceutical company Amgen, confirmed to the New Scientist that "clinical trials will be needed to work out how well the treatment works in people." But we'll be damned if humanity gets to the point where we're injecting ourselves to change the food we like.
After all, some things do taste as good as skinny feels.