Aston University researchers are seeking industrial partners to develop an anti-obesity drug that exploits a fat-burning process that affects cancer patients.
Weight loss is triggered by a protein, Zag (zinc alpha 2 glyco-protein), that is produced naturally in the body. Zag occurs in greater quantities in cancer patients. The protein allows weight loss with no change in eating habits.
The protein was first discovered in 1962, but scientists have been unsure about its function until now.
Research led by Mike Tisdale, professor of cancer biochemistry at Aston's School of Life and Health Sciences, found that Zag acts in a similar way to hormones produced in the body that convert fat into heat rather than energy during exposure to cold.
The discovery was made when the research team was studying cachexia syndrome, the process of weight-loss in cancer patients that can cause them to lose up to 85 per cent of their body fat.
The researchers found that while Zag is present in normal tissue, its production is increased tenfold with the presence of a tumour. The drug would be safe because the protein occurs naturally in healthy tissue.