Stem cells may provide a glimpse into the reasons certain pharmaceutical drugs cause weight gain as a side effect. Professor Ansel Zhao, biological sciences, has received a $422,640 grant to use stem cells and their derivatives to study the molecular mechanisms behind fat development.
Zhao and her research assistants will test 14 drugs with the known side effect of weight gain. They will observe the formation of fat on human adult stem cells and will use mature human fat cells to better understand the effect of the drugs on lipolysis, or how fat breaks down. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences funds the research project for four years.
The test results will help explain or narrow down the potential explanations for weight gain, which has been observed in patients who take the drugs. By using stem cells, scientists can study specific biological responses and can potentially identify other side effects.
“Using human cells to do toxicity studies on drugs can be more sensitive and efficient than animal models and clinical trials since they are assayed in vitro on a cellular level,” Zhao says. “This is especially so for discovering the type of side effects that may take months or years to be reflected on the human body. So it is a highly valuable approach in addition to human clinical trials to help develop safe drugs with minimal side effects.”
Zhao hopes that their research may help inform future drug development and testing. The results may contribute to establishing testing guidelines or models for predicting the toxicity effect on fat development in pharmaceutical drugs, both on the market and in development, as well as environmental chemicals.