Could a Drug Be the Solution to Obesity?

British researchers have discovered a protein in the endothelial lining of human blood vessels that acts as an exercise sensor.

Obesity rates have risen drastically in the last three decades. According to the WHO, worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980, with more than 13% of the world’s population being overweight and obese. More than 600 million adults fall into the fully “obese” category (BMI greater than 30). Pretty terrifying statistics, aren’t they?

But what if a drug could solve the obesity problem by promoting weight loss with just a small amount of exercise? According to a study from the University of Leeds, there may be hope for the future.

The British researchers have discovered a protein in the endothelial lining of human blood vessels that acts as an exercise sensor. In response to the increased blood flow caused by exercise, the protein—known as Piezo1—alters the endothelial electrical balance and constricts the blood vessels leading to the digestive tract. This stops blood from flowing to the intestines and stomach, sending more blood to the muscles used for exercise as well as the brain.

According to the professor leading the study, “One of our ideas is that Piezo1 has a special role in controlling blood flow to the intestines and this is an important part of the body when we start to think about something called the metabolic syndrome which is associated with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”

A Step Closer to Having a Drug That Can Help Control Major Chronic Conditions

The researchers have developed a drug labeled Yoda1, which can affect the Piezo1 in the blood vessels around the intestines. The fact that the drug targets these specific blood vessels could “overcome some of the problems of diabetes and perhaps this Yoda1 compound could target the Piezo1 in the intestinal area to have a functional effect.”

Let’s get one thing clear: this is not a total fix for obesity. It’s not going to magically combat weight gain caused by overeating or lack of exercise. What it could do, however, is increase the benefits of exercise by helping your cardiovascular system work more effectively.

When you exercise, your heart sends blood all around your body, keeping all the organs, internal functions, and muscles fueled with oxygen and nutrients. By reducing blood flow to your intestines, this drug could help to focus all the circulation in the body parts you’re using for exercise. This could lead to more efficient muscle oxygenation, as well as better energy-efficiency. Ultimately, it could enhance the effects of even low-intensity exercise, encouraging better weight loss results with less effort.

It could be one huge step forward in the fight against obesity and diabetes. As the researchers claim, “It may be that by understanding the working of the Yoda1 experimental molecule on the Piezo1 protein, we can move a step closer to having a drug that can help control some major chronic conditions.”


1. Baptiste Rode, Jian Shi, Naima Endesh, Mark J. Drinkhill, Peter J. Webster, Sabine J. Lotteau, Marc A. Bailey, Nadira Y. Yuldasheva, Melanie J. Ludlow, Richard M. Cubbon, Jing Li, T. Simon Futers, Lara Morley, Hannah J. Gaunt, Katarzyna Marszalek, Hema Viswambharan, Kevin Cuthbertson, Paul D. Baxter, Richard Foster, Piruthivi Sukumar, Andrew Weightman, Sarah C. Calaghan, Stephen B. Wheatcroft, Mark T. Kearney, David J. Beech. “Piezo1 channels sense whole body physical activity to reset cardiovascular homeostasis and enhance performance.” Nature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00429-3.