Inducing autoimmunity via vaccination to combat obesity (aka, an "obesity vaccine")

File this under "Cool, but not the best experimental design and maybe a bad idea in humans (but maybe a good idea under some circumstances)"--

Effects of Novel Vaccines on Weight Loss in Diet-Induced-Obese (DIO) Mice, pdf:

Somatostatin is part of several chemical pathways in your body-- one of them is the inhibition of Human Growth Hormone and Insulin-like Growth Factor-1.

There has been some suggestion in the scientific literature that treating humans/animals with GH or IGF-1 could lead to weight loss... Which has lead to some people going to extreme lengths to take illegal HGH or IGF-1 to try to lose weight.

Why not try something completely different-- A vaccine that could provide the theoretical benefits of HGH/IGF-1, without people needing to resort to illegal exogenous hormone treatments?

The logic in this paper is, if you make a vaccine against somatostatin, antibodies to somatostatin could in effect, inhibit the inhibitor, thus increasing levels of GH and IGF-1 in obese patients.  This increase GH and IGF-1 might help obese patients lose weight.

So to test this, the researchers put some mice on a junk-food diet-- 60% fat.  They then gave some mice a placebo, and some the somatostatin vaccine.  The vaccine mice lost 12-13% of their body weight in four days.


The researchers were so shocked at these results, they scaled back the 'booster' vaccine because they were worried they might kill their mice :-/

So, it worked!  Theoretically, this vaccine would be a good 'booster' to combine with diet/exercise/surgical approaches to weight loss.

Now, it definitely has to be in conjunction with other approaches.  This vaccine isnt a carte blanche for non-obese people to eat nothing but Poptarts and sit in front of a computer all day. Over the course of the study, the vaccine mice eventually got back to their pre-vaccine weight.  Actually, they gained it all back, plus some more.  So, getting this vaccine would not mean that you could keep eating whatever you want, how much you want (the vaccine mice ate the same amount of the junk-food diet as the placebo mice).

There is also the small fact that this vaccine is inducing autoimmunity.  Your own immune system is 'attacking' your own somatostatin.  There might be some long-term effects of this vaccine that are Very Bad, especially since somatostatin also plays a role in chemical pathways in your brain.

And what if a woman gets this vaccine because her weight is having a negative effect on her fertility, so she wants to lose weight to have a baby.  She has baby, and passes these anti-somatostatin antibodies on to baby during breast feeding.  What happens to baby?

So again, is this a neat paper? Sure!  Is this another cool example of scientists using genetically modified viruses to treat diseases?  Sure!  Have vaccines given us a silver bullet to obesity? Nope!  Not yet!



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The link to the paper is broken (and I can't find it on pubmed) but...

This has "bad idea" written all over it. Once you get autoinflammation going, epitope spreading is a nasty beast. You've got neurons in the hypothalamus making this stuff... I'd hate to see what happens if the immune system decides to start going after the source.

I'm already nervous about using vaccines against cancer (where you might have cancer-specific antigens), going after a naturally produced hormone is asking for trouble.

Eh they sent out a press release a few days ago with the paper, and the link to a pdf is all I have so far (its not in PubMed yet).

Try just copy/pasting the link! You wont like the paper :-D

So what is wrong with not eating too much? Is this not sending out the message that being fat/overweight is something beyond your control and therefore not your fault?

@ Abbie - Ugh... I hate papers without graphs. Interpreting tables makes my head hurt.

@ Duh - Might as well ask an alcoholic "What is wrong with not drinking so much?" or a poor person "What is wrong with getting a (better) job?"

Ι agree that it may be problematic to abdicate people from their personally responsibility, but we should also not be so quick to abdicate the responsibility of our society as a whole and the structure of incentives that leads to over eating and under exercising. There are reasons why obesity is on the rise, and I don't think it's entirely attributable to irresponsible individuals.

That said, I would hope that treatments like this would only be prescribed in extreme cases of morbid obesity or in situations where other interventions have failed - but it's dangerous to hope for a panacea... we need to tackle this issue on all fronts.

Let's not forget, the benefits of exercise and eating healthy aren't limited to thin individuals. Even if you are 'fat', and eating healthy and exercising doesn't give you the quintessentially "healthy" body, it's not as though you are wasting your time with all that jogging and whole grains.

I might be mistaken, and if someone could explain to me what is wrong with this line of thinking, feel free, but it seems like focusing more on accepting people for their size while simultaneously encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits (regardless of accumulated gelatinous body mass) would not only be more socially accepting, but produce a healthier society as well. In other words, "who care's if you're fat".

I'm somewhat in agreement with Duh. It seems like we are going way too far these days in giving everyone the easy way out. Promoting this mindset is not only bad for things like weight but other unrelated things as well. The easy way is not always the best way and learning some mental discipline is not a bad thing. There is a way that almost invariably (with some very rare exceptions) leads to weight loss; eat less and exercise more. Expend more calories than you take in and your body does the rest. Yes it takes discipline. No it isn't always easy but lots of people do it and I'd hate to think that we are so lazy that we can't take a bit of personal responsibility.

The other issue here is that with something like this, it would be hard to safely "undo" the vaccine. As ERV points out, an initial low risk to the vaccinated individual does not mean a low risk for all situations they may encounter later (pregnancy).

By Poodle Stomper (not verified) on 09 Jul 2012 #permalink

Santiago, I totally agree about focusing on other things besides weight loss, except there's at least one reason for society to care about people getting too fat - when people do get sick or old, someone still has to move that weight around, so increasing obesity puts a lot of strain on healthcare workers.

I think that in extreme cases this is great. I ballooned as a result of pregnancy and high dose cortico steroids and,having lost 15kgs then broke both legs as a result of osteoporosis induced by the steroids. 6 months later I am still on crutches and still cannot exercise so am bigger than when I began.Even a small dose of this vaccine when I broke my legs may, in theory, have helped to continue my weight loss and aid in my recovery. Sometimes diet and exercise is not possible and not the only important thing. I have worked so hard just to recover from broken legs and yet people still call me fat and lazy. Unless you have been there do not judge.

“who care’s if you’re fat” Well I'm paying tax for people who seem not to care about their health. Ok I accept it's an education issue but processed food is more expensive than homecooked. All the programmes on TV we see half ton woman etc. tipping potato chips into mayo and no one seems to be accusing the feeder with abuse. I know about emotional eaters etc. but fast food needs taxing to make the cost of med care reflect the damage it's doing to the economy. Surely that's gotta be a cheaper way to deal with this issue rather than wait until it's too late and medicate?

Leash, this is not directed at you it is directed at the 2 million US citizens over 40 stone and counting. Apparently to maintain that weight you have to eat 26000 calories a day, that's not casual snacking that is organised eating.

duh: You really live up to your name. If you think two million obese people in the States (or anywhere, for that matter) are consuming over 26,000 calories a day, you are very sadly mistaken. I know nobody likes to hear this because it busts holes in their excuses to make fun of the fat people, but some people have hormonal problems and can't lose weight like you might be able to. I exercised hard for an hour a day, every single day, while consuming under 1500 very healthy calories a day, for months. According to you, I should have lost a ton of weight, but guess what... I gained 5 lbs at first (likely muscle), then lost 5 lbs and was stuck that entire time. Something else is going on in cases like mine and your mockery and falsehoods don't make it any easier.

Duh said, "Leash, this is not directed at you it is directed at the 2 million US citizens over 40 stone and counting."

But see, that's the thing. Everyone has their own story and their own issues. It's not always just a matter of self-control or making poor choices.

There is a myriad of reasons for obesity. Poverty, disease, lack of time and safe places to exercise, depression, other mental and physical illnesses, stress and emotional eating, lack of nutritional education, societal conveniences and genetics all contribute to the issue.

I was heavy from childhood. Ten years ago, I lost 140 pounds through diet and exercise. Then I got pregnant, quit smoking, sat on a couch breast feeding for awhile and went back to a sedentary job. Now I am back where I started and I hate myself for it every day.

I work very hard at eating healthfully and staying active but it's not enough. In order to lose 1 - 2 pounds per week, I can only consume about 1200 calories. That's not much.

And then, even when I do have success (I am now down 20 pounds), I still endure mocking, prejudice and poor treatment from others because of my size which kind of makes me feel like it's just not worth it sometimes. If I'm going to be ridiculed when doing my best, why not just eat the ice cream and enjoy it?

Anyway, yeah, everyone's situation is different and you don't know where they are in their journey. Judging and ridiculing doesn't help.

Duh said, "I know about emotional eaters etc. but fast food needs taxing to make the cost of med care reflect the damage it’s doing to the economy. Surely that’s gotta be a cheaper way to deal with this issue rather than wait until it’s too late and medicate?"

That's definitely one solution - there's probably a great deal of unhealthy behavior that's the result of societal incentives. It's cheaper and faster to eat fast food than to prepare a healthy, balanced meal. For some, fresh food isn't even available.

Then there's things like cutting PE from elementary and middle school curriculum, and even less obvious things like movement into suburbs (where driving becomes necessary rather than walking). There are many forces conspiring to encourage unhealthy weight.

Sorry, you may not like this: Until I see an eating schedule the statement 'I am eating healthy doesn't mean much."

This is not a put down it is a statement of fact. Eating a healthy diet means understanding things like sugar release, not missing meals as that is a guaranteed way to put weight on and there are many other contextural issues.

Eating soya is a great way to wreck the thyroid for example so avoiding high fat dairy and switching to soya milk can be well intentioned but actually worse in the systemic effects.

It is about education and it is totally possible to turn round the wider issues you mention but most state sponsered efforts are too linear in their approach and don't address the biggest issues to change.

I have never laughed at someone with a weight issue, if we titptoe round the subject instead of sorting it there will not be an epidemic of obesity in 10 years because by the time all the pc people have finished they wont be here.

If we taxed sugar and cornsyrup that is added to the US diet, everyone I know who holidays in the US gets constipated for a start, then this will immeadiately raise the bucks to start funding proper food programmes for deprived areas, putting food teachers into schools and dumping crap school food too.

In the UK the damn olympics is being sponsered by Cola and Mcgarbage, how the hell did this happen these people need taxing and then they could fund it via tax without adverts. Considering the health stress on the nation from these companies they need to be made to pay or change, period.

Another (potential) tool in the arsenal towards helping people be more health-- and another piece of the puzzle is fit into place, helping us understand our own chemistry.

Too cool. As the understanding of the human engine increases, it makes possible such ideas as “obesity vaccine”.

From those small steps, who knows? The possibilities are limitless.

By Bob Powers (not verified) on 12 Jul 2012 #permalink

The problem is pure laziness. People are so mentally weak these days. Hey, losing weight is hard work so lets take this magic pill or vaccine. I know we live in a crappy food environment, but at some point people need to start taking responsibility for themselves. You control yourself and what you do.

"Pure laziness".... really?

If that were the case, than it'd be easy as pie to get people to lose weight-- there are drugs which can easily stimulate one's sense of energy (and thus, removing the lazy feelings).

But, as it so often turns out, it's never quite as simple as all that.

And pre-judgiging every single overweight person as "lazy" is being rather...

... lazy-minded.

Irony deliberate.

By Bob Powers (not verified) on 14 Jul 2012 #permalink