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Scientific progress

09 - 05 - 2017

A pill that mimics physical exercise tested in mice


Researchers have developed a molecule capable of mimicking the effects of physical exercise, both regarding fat burning and endurance. Tested successfully in mice, it could be used as a treatment for people who are very sedentary, handicapped or for whom sport is not recommended. 



An experimental molecule named GW501516 developed by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (USA) could reproduce the beneficial effects of physical exercise in sedentary people.

It acts by stimulating genes that trigger fat burning and increase endurance, just like the event that occur after sports, according to their work published in the journal Cell Metabolism.



Sedentary mice that gain endurance without effort
To test this "miracle" molecule, the researchers conducted a two-month experiment on two groups of sedentary mice. The first group received the GW molecule while the second group, the control group, received no molecule.
Results: GW-treated sedentary mice were able to run for 270 minutes in a wheel, compared to 160 minutes for untreated sedentary mice. This corresponds to 70% gain in endurance.
The mice of the 1st group also put on less weight than the others, and controlled their blood glucose levels better, suggesting that this GW molecule could be beneficial for diabetics.

At the level of the organism, this experiment showed that the GW molecule modified the expression of 975 genes. Genes with a role in the burning of fat become more active in the muscles of treated mice, while other genes responsible for burning sugars showed a decreased activity. The burning of fat therefore increased, to the expense of that of sugars, perhaps to keep sugar levels high for the brain. Under normal circumstances, the combustion of sugars is favoured, since it is less time consumming.



A treatment that has yet to prove its worth
A molecule close to GW501516 had already been developed in the 1990s by the British laboratory GlaxoSmithKline and the American company Ligand Pharmaceuticals. This molecule, which was designed to treat cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, had been abandoned because many studies showed it could have carcinogenic effects when used in high doses. Despite being waivered for commercial purposes, the molecule subsisted on the black market, other studies having subsequently shown that it boosted endurance.
Convinced that such a molecule could help a great deal the obese, disabled, diabetics, cardiacs, or immobilized by surgery, scientists continued to study it, hoping to find the balanced dosage with the most beneficial effects and the least side effects.  


Hélène Bour



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