A recent discovery by researchers in Singapore may be the key to developing new drugs to burn fat, cure common diabetes and even slow down the effects of aging. The study by researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) looked at the body’s mechanisms of muscle loss due to aging and illness. What they discovered is that a molecule called Myostatin is responsible for muscle deterioration.
Myostatin binds to muscle cells and causes a drop in the cell’s mitochondria (a necessary part of a cell’s energy production). This leads to atrophy of the muscles because of the lack of energy in the cells. In healthy and young people, this cycle of myostatin depressing the mitochondria is a necessary function of muscle cells in order for them to regenerate new cells. However, people who are sick experience higher levels of myostatin and the related atrophy. As we age, myostain levels increase as well.
“If we block myostatin from binding to cells, then muscles won’t waste away and we can then mitigate the effects of aging and chronic diseases,” said Associate Professor Ravi Kambadur from the NTU School of Biological Sciences.
In addition to regulating growth and loss of muscle, myostatin is also responsible for deciding whether the body will burn either stored fat or available carbohydrates. When myostatin is present in the cells, the body will burn available carbohydrates and continue to store fat. However, when myostatin is blocked, the body will burn fat.
“In near future, myostatin blockers could increase fat utilisation in the body and give you the benefits of exercise, without actually doing intense physical activity,” Professor Kambadur said. “This would be a good alternative treatment for people who are unable to exercise, such as those who are bed-ridden or are in cancer treatment, who are most at risk of massive muscle loss.”
A myostatin-blocker could be the answer to the obesity epidemic and be a cure for diabetes caused by being obese. Although a myostatin-blocking drug is years from development and commercial or medical availability, the NTU study has revealed some helpful information that can be used today – poeple who exercise regularly have a natural low level of myostatin.