A new study researching the potential effect of genetics on the response to treatment for obesity is underway at University Hospital Galway in association with University of Galway and Brunel University London.
The study shows that patients who were being treated with an intensive short-term programme of medically supervised dietary restriction in an attempt to reverse some of the medical problems of severe and complicated obesity, responded differently to treatment, depending on their genes.
The GERONIMO project involved 93 volunteer patients who had an average body mass index at the start of the study of 52kgm-2, which means that they weighed more than twice their maximum ‘healthy weight’.
The study is only the beginning of possibly ground-breaking research on the impact of genetics on obesity.
Professor Francis Finucane, senior lecturer in the School of Medicine at University of Galway and Consultant Endocrinologist at Galway University Hospitals, who led the clinical study, said: “The genetic effects we found here were subtle, but we think it would be good to explore this further, in larger studies and with different obesity treatments, such as drug therapy or ‘metabolic surgery’”.
The participants lost an average of 16% of their body weight, or 21kg after 24 weeks, after following the meal replacement programme.
The scientists during the study analysed small variations in hundreds of genes that have been discovered to be associated with obesity. After combining information from these measured gene variations, they calculated a genetic-risk-score for six different obesity-related traits.
One of these genetic-risk-scores was named the “waist hip ratio”, which determined the impact of genetics on a person’s predisposition to carry central or abdominal fat, and this was found to be linked to less weight loss after the meal replacement programme.
“No-one chooses their genes, so, as a society, we need to recognise that when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, the challenge is greater for some people than for others,” said Professor Alex Blakemore, Professor in Human Genomics at Brunel University.
“This study reveals just a small part of the picture of how our genes can help or hinder us in reaching our health goals.”