The team are investigating the exact mechanism by which the cells in the intestine cause the hormone signals to the brain of satiety (feeling full). If these could be manipulated without surgery the way would be open for an effective non-invasive treatment of obesity. It could also have implications for type II diabetes as well as colorectal cancer.

Obesity is caused by eating too much and not exercising enough. The only currently effective treatment is radical gastric bypass surgery which, though proven the most successful response, brings its own risks and is irreversible.

Bypass surgery diverts undigested food from the stomach into the intestine and works because the effect on the patient is that they feel fuller much more quickly.

The project depends on finding out how the cells in question sense nutrients and therefore know when they’ve had enough. The human tissue laboratory will be key in this respect as the team have already been able to witness how different cells respond to different nutrients in living human bowel tissue.

The research team

The project is being led by Professor Ashley Blackshaw who is Professor of Enteric Neuroscience at the Wingate Institute. His research focuses on gastrointestinal sensory mechanisms across a wide area including pain, obesity and reflux disease.

Why are we tackling obesity and type II diabetes?

Obesity is a significant and growing problem in the developed world. It is related to a number of other health issues, including type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. In the USA over one third of the population are now defined as obese. In the UK one in four adults are now classed as overweight or obese. The direct costs to the NHS of treating the problem are estimated to be £5.1 billion every year.

Various studies in recent years have shown that obesity, particularly carrying weight around your middle, is a key risk factor for bowel cancer.

If the relationship between nutrients in the bowel and satiety can be found, it would radically improve our management of this growing epidemic.

Further funding has been secured from the Moulton Foundation to conduct an early human trial of a novel capsule formulation.