Sadaf Farooqi of the University of Cambridge published new research in the Oct. 24, 2013, issue of the journal Cell that is the first to identify a genetic cause for childhood obesity and to discover an approved medicine that corrects the problems caused by the genetic aberration.
Farooqi sequenced the genome of 2,101 young people with severe early-onset obesity and found a common mutation in the gene KSR2 (Kinase Suppressor of Ras 2). This mutation is thought to be responsible for the slow metabolism and insatiable appetite demonstrated in some obese people. Additional common attributes of obese children included lower heart rate and severe insulin resistance. Severe insulin resistance can eventually lead to diabetes.
The genetic results were confirmed by deletion of the KSR2 gene in mice. The mice that lacked the KSR2 became obese. Cell studies indicated that KSR2 mutations impaired glucose and fatty acid oxidation.
The researchers found that the diabetes drug metformin corrected the low levels of fatty acid oxidation seen in cells expressing the KSR2 mutations.
This research is the first to define a drug that corrects some of the problems associated with childhood obesity.
The researchers indicate that the majority of childhood obesity and adult obesity is the result of diet and lack of exercise. The mutation of KSR2 may be induced by those factors.
In light of the abysmally low reduction of childhood obesity rates by a plethora of state and federal programs, this discovery may be a solution that is financially viable and practically effective in reducing childhood obesity.