Genes may predispose some people to being overweight



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Posted on September 11, 2010 at 5:57 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:45 AM

Lisa Bohner has one wish.

"To have life again, to be normal," she said.

She and her 455 pounds struggle every day.

"I'm sorry, I only merely exist," she said.

But this nearly quarter-ton woman may share a genetic link with a one-ounce mouse.

"It's a way that we can illustrate using mouse models with specific genetic characteristics to dissect these processes that are so common in the human population," said Dr. Philip Wood, DVM, PhD, Professor at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

Dr. Wood created six mouse models in his lab then inactivated fat-burning genes in each one. Some got fat. Others built up insulin resistance. Others stayed healthy. Now, he's matching each mouse with a person having the same genetic make-up.

"We can sort of find the tipping point, if you will. When does obesity show up? When does diabetes show up? When does high blood pressure show up?" he said.

The goal: identify people whose genes pre-dispose them to being fat and then find therapies to turn off those switches.

"And the idea is that we're then beginning to put together the pieces to eventually pursue an individualized medicine for the average obese, diabetic individual that comes in," said Dr. Wood.

While diet, exercise and environment make up half of the obesity picture, genetics control the rest, meaning Lisa can't blame her weight entirely on her genes.

"I don't ask for any miracles," she said.

Not a miracle but a genetic breakthrough could make all the difference.

Dr. Wood says using these mouse models will greatly speed up the process for developing new drugs.