Researchers have begun clinical trials to find out how well an anti-obesity compound derived from a Chinese herb works in humans.
South Dakota State University researcher Gareth Davies, the scientific director for the Avera Institute for Human Behavioral Genetics in Sioux Falls, said collaborators from SDSU and Avera have published several articles about the compound, AIHBG-10.
"We studied a natural product used extensively in Chinese medicine to treat obesity," he said.
"We showed that we can use this compound to stop the development of fat cells and to change the gene expression in these cells and basically prevent them developing from a pre-fat cell to a fat cell. We studied the response in cell lines and in animals, and now Avera is beginning a clinical trial in humans," he added.
Davies noted that the compound might have possible applications in treating side effects resulting from some medications.
"We found this compound is very, very useful for reducing the obesity associated with anti-pyschotic treatment," he said.
"We have a lot of individuals, bipolar and schizophrenic individuals, who are on anti-psychotic drugs. One of the severe side effects is a phenomenal weight gain. Many times this leads to non-compliance with medication because the individuals are suffering so much weight gain," he added
A second clinical trial beginning in early 2011 will use the anti-obesity compound in individuals who are being treated with anti-psychotic drugs in order to determine how well it reduces the weight gains associated with such treatments.
Davies has credited his former doctoral student at SDSU, Yueshan Hu, with taking an important role in the research.
Hu is a certified herbalist and was an assistant professor of traditional Chinese medicine in Guangzhou University in China.
"Some of the herbal combinations really have fantastic effects," said Hu, adding "but we don't know the mechanism. We don't know why."