With 65 percent of the U.S. population overweight, the battle of the bulge seems to be one we are losing. Now researchers have unveiled a new method of attack: starving fat cells of their lifeblood in order to destroy them. Findings reported in the June issue of Nature Medicine indicate that the tactic is successful in mice.

A team lead by Wadih Arap and Renata Pasqualini of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center borrowed a technique from the fight against cancer to develop their antiobesity therapy. One approach to killing tumors is to cut off their blood supply because the proliferation of new cells requires the formation of new blood vessels, a process known as angiogenesis. Although fat cells are not malignant, they do have the ability to proliferate and expand. In addition, each cell is in contact with a number of capillaries. In the new work, the researchers identified a protein, called prohibitin, which is expressed on blood vessels that supply fat cells in obese mice. The team then paired a peptide that binds to prohibitin with a second peptide that promotes cell death.

Obese mice treated with the compound lost 10 percent of their body weight each week over the course of a four-week study without signs of toxicity. "Because prohibitin is also expressed in blood vessels of human white fat," the authors conclude, "this work may lead to the development of targeted drugs for treatment of obese patients."