Exercise in a pill?

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Researchers were hoping to deliver exercise in a pill, but instead they produced a performance-enhancing drug:

In 2004, Evans and his colleagues genetically engineered mice by tweaking a gene called PPAR-delta, a master regulator of different genes. Gene-engineered mice could run twice as far as normal mice and stayed lean even when fed a high-fat diet.

The next step was to find a drug that might mimic these effects.

Evans tested a compound called GW1516, one of a family of compounds that researchers are looking at as obesity and diabetes drugs. But even though it affected the genes of the mice, it did not affect their metabolism.

“There was no change at all in running performance. Nothing — not even a percent,” Evans said in a statement.

Then the researchers thought about what happens in real life.

“If you’re out of shape — and most of us are — and you want to change, you have to do some exercise. The way we reprogram muscle in adults is by training.”

So they trained the mice while some were on the drug and others were not.

All the mice became more athletic but those given GW1516 ran 68 percent longer than those that had only done the exercise training. “The dramatic effect of the drug was stunning,” Evans said.

A drug like that doesn’t help couch potatoes, of course, or anyone with, say, a muscle-wasting disease, so they produced another drug along the same lines:

Mice given AICAR ran 44 percent longer than untreated animals, the researchers found.

“This is a drug that is like pharmacological exercise,” Evans says. “After four weeks of receiving the drug, the mice were behaving as if they’d been exercised.”

Treated mice could outrun mice given traditional exercise training, Evans said.

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