Medical researchers have been on a quest for safe weight-loss medications with minimal side effects for a while. It appears that they have now developed a promising solution to address this issue, which has reached epidemic proportions.
A biomedical engineer from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has harnessed a nanogel-based carrier, created in his laboratory, to selectively administer a drug to the livers of obese mice. This approach successfully reversed the disease induced by their dietary habits.
“The treated mice completely lost their weight, and we did not see any untoward side effects,” says S Thai Thayumanavan, distinguished professor of chemistry and biomedical engineering. “Considering 100 million Americans have obesity and related cardiometabolic disorders, we became pretty excited about this work.”
Efforts to translate these findings to humans are being pursued by a start-up company called Cyta Therapeutics, which was founded at the UMass Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) based on the nanogel technologies from the Thayumanavan lab. In late July, Cyta Therapeutics won the Judges’ Choice Award for Best Startup at the 16th annual Massachusetts Life Sciences Innovation (MALSI) Day in Boston.
“There is a significant amount of development work to be conducted between mice and humans,” Thayumanavan said in a news release, “but we are hoping it will eventually become a drug.”
Senior author Thayumanavan, director of the Center for Bioactive Delivery at IALS, explains his team’s findings in a paper published Tuesday, August 29, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences NEXUS. Ruiling Wu, who is doing research for her PhD in chemistry in Thayumanavan’s lab and at the Center for Bioactive Delivery, is the paper’s lead author. Wu recently graduated and now works for a pharmaceutical company in Boston.
One of the center’s primary goals is to figure out how to get the right drug to the right place in the body by creating novel delivery platforms for small and large molecules.
Thyromimetics, or drugs that mimic synthetic thyroid hormone, have been considered a potential way to tackle the problems of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH), and other metabolic conditions. Targeted therapy is key, however. Thayumanavan and his team looked at one such thyromimetic.
“We realized we needed to deliver this drug selectively to the liver because if it went to other places, it could cause complications,” he says. In addition to side effects, taking the drug systemically was expected to dilute its effectiveness, which was confirmed in the study.