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Sister in Forefront of Research
On November 9, 2008 at 11:00 in the morning, I [Sister Patricia Grasso, CSJ/Sister John Damien] presented the results of the last two years of our obesity research at Albany Medical College to physicians and scientists from all over the world at the Thirteenth International Congress of Endocrinology in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (ICE). To be invited to this event, which is expected to have more than 9,000 persons in attendance, is an honor in itself, but to be scheduled to present my work on Day 1 is something I could not even imagine; at conferences of this size, they do not “save the best for last!” Needless to say, I am both humbled by this selection and eager to make a good show of it.
What am I going to talk about at the Congress? As many of you know, our efforts in this field have been blessed with a number of grants throughout the years and now also by sublicenses from Aegis Therapeutics, a California-based pharmaceutical company in San Diego. These licensing funds, totaling $250,000, have made it possible for us to make great strides in the development of potential alternative therapies for the treatment of human obesity, a disease which, I am sure you know, has reached epidemic proportions throughout the world, affecting not only adults, but also infants and children as well. I am a protein chemist/endocrinologist by trade (along with having been a gross-anatomy teacher of first-year medical students for 21 years) and have used this training to isolate an active site (part of a molecule that does the job) of a hormone called “leptin.” This hormone is very important in regulating energy balance in rodents and in humans. What is energy balance? Perhaps the easiest way to explain this concept may be just to say “energy consumed” (food) must equal “energy expended” (calories burned) in order to maintain a healthy body weight (which goes right along with cardiovascular health, glycemic (blood sugar) control, and reproductive function). Human nature being what it is, however, we have painfully discovered that behavior modification (diet and exercise) are not enough to achieve this goal, and currently available drugs and surgical interventions have proved either inadequate or unattractive for the majority of clinically obese individuals. Hence, new efforts to discover different strategies to treat obesity have become vitally necessary.
In response to this need, our laboratory has developed a small peptide (part of the leptin molecule which is a protein) that has leptin-like effects. This peptide, called OB3, reduces food-and-water intake, induces weight loss or prevents body-weight gain, lowers blood glucose and restores fertility in genetically obese/diabetic mice. All of these results are achieved via daily injections of the peptide into the abdomen (intraperitoneal) of the animal, a delivery method which is commonly used in rodents but not at all attractive to humans! Our goal for the past two years has been to try to find a way to reformulate OB3 into a delivery vehicle which is more acceptable to humans than an injection. This goal, I am happy to report, we have accomplished in collaboration with Aegis Therapeutics. OB3 may now be administered intranasally as a nasal spray or nose drops, a noninvasive, more efficient and safer mode of drug delivery than the currently used injection methods. This is the story that I will tell at ICE 2008.
What's next? A nasal administration is good, but it would be even better if OB3 could be taken orally, i.e., by a pill or liquid. That's what we are working on now. Our pilot studies say it can be done. These experiments are awaiting confirmation. If the results are positive, Aegis Therapeutics has identified venture capital to support Phase 1 clinical trials, the goal toward which our laboratory has been working since 1996. I ask your continued prayers in this regard.
On a personal note, I truly believe that God works many of his miracles today through the hands of skilled and compassionate physicians and their enlightened use of the modern medical tools available to them. As I approach the Autumn of my life, I give thanks each day that I have had the privilege of helping a good many of these modern-day miracle workers hone their healing skills and, hopefully, of providing them with some tools with which to work their miracles.