Obesity linked to genetic trigger, study finds

Obesity linked to genetic trigger, study finds

People who lack a certain blood group are ‘genetically predisposed to obesity and increased weight, according to a new study.

The genetic variant identified by researchers disables the SMIM1 gene which is known to contribute to thyroid function and energy expenditure. The authors of the study said that those with the variant were more prone to obesity because they expend less energy at rest. The results of the study suggest that females carried an extra 4.6kg of weight and males carried an extra 2.4kg on average.

Those with the variant were also more likely to have other measures linked to obesity. These included high levels of fat in the blood, signs of fat tissue dysfunction, increased liver enzymes and decreased thyroid hormones.

Published in Med, the study analysed blood from 500,000 participants. The genetic variant was found in 104 of the participants, a rate of one in 5,000 people. SMIM1 was only discovered a decade ago, but the study’s authors said it was ‘exciting’ to learn more about its role in human metabolism.

Co-author Ole Pedersen said: ‘The whole team is very much looking forward to seeing how this new knowledge can be translated into practical solutions for people with this genetic make-up.’

‘A significant factor for obesity’

Based on the results of the study, the researchers believe that SMIM1 could be a significant factor for obesity in around 300,000 people worldwide.

Lead author Mattia Frontini said: ‘Obesity rates have nearly tripled in the past 50 years, and by 2030, more than one billion individuals worldwide are projected to be obese. The associated diseases and complications create significant economic burden on healthcare systems.

‘Obesity is due to an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure, often a complex interplay of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors. In a small minority of people, obesity is caused by genetic variants. 

‘When this is the case, new treatments can sometimes be found to benefit these people – and we’re now hoping to run a clinical trial to find out whether widely-available drug for thyroid supplementation may be beneficial in treating obesity in people who lack SMIM1.’

Professor Frontini continued to stress the need for further research into genetic causes of obesity and potential solutions. She said: ‘Our findings highlight the need to investigate the genetic cause of obesity, to select the most appropriate and effective treatment, but also to reduce the social stigma associated to it.’

First author Dr Luca Stefanucci added: ‘With the increased availability of genetic data, and more information on SMIM1 mechanism, we would like to see that when individuals lacking SMIM1 are identified, they receive information and support.’

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