New study uncovers genetic pathways underlying obesity

The World Health Organization estimates that over four million people die each year due to obesity. When it comes to weight issues, certain genes may be to blame, according to a recent study. The findings from this study, which is the largest known study to understand genomics and metabolism levels, could help people learn how to maintain a healthy weight. 

This study was overseen by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Guy’s and St. Thomas Biomedical Research Centre in the United Kingdom. Researchers used data from 8,809 people who were a part of the NIHR BioResource, an association of individuals who consented to participate in research projects. 

In this research, the team looked at blood samples to measure levels of 722 metabolites, which provide insight into an individual’s well-being and physiological processes. Metabolite levels can be affected by nutrition, drugs, and gut balance. Metabolism itself, however, is heavily impacted by a person’s genetics.

Researchers report finding 202 unique genomic regions whose variations are associated with the levels of 478 different metabolites. Of these, 74 were new genomic regions previously undiscovered that explain how our bodies metabolize food. 

Research Comments and Findings 

“These results could have many practical implications. Human metabolism underlies a lot of different areas of human health and disease,” says Dr. Cristina Menni, from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, in a statement. “Our findings could help understand certain diseases. It is very early research, but in the future, these findings could help to develop approaches to maintaining a healthy weight which take into account a person’s genetic profile.”

“Obesity is one of the most common conditions, and yet there’s still so much we need to understand about its biological mechanisms. Our latest findings may help to unravel some of them. Genetic studies hold real promise in helping us find new treatments for obesity,” says Dr. Massimo Mangino, from the NHIR Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre.

“The NIHR BioResource is a unique UK resource made possible by the amazing collaboration between doctors and researchers in the NHS. It’s because of collaborations like this that large scale studies like ours are possible,” says Dr. Pirro Hysi from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology

This study is published in Metabolites.

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