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Maynooth University research reveals cancer-killing benefits of popular obesity treatment

By Irish Pharmacist - 31st May 2023

Maynooth University’s Kathleen Londsdale Institute for Human Health Research has recently published ground-breaking research into the benefits of the popular obesity treatment drug, GLP-1.

Previous research has found that people with obesity are at a greater risk of developing cancer, in part due to their anticancer immune cell — better known as the ‘Natural Killer (NK)’ cell — being rendered useless due to their disease.

New Health Research Board (HRB)-funded research carried out by Dr Andrew Hogan and his team in the Londsdale Health Institute at Maynooth University, has found that the popular, and gold-standard pharmacological treatment for obesity, glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) analogues, can actually restore the NK cell function in the body, including its ability to kill cancerous cells.

Currently, one-in-four Irish adults are living with obesity, a disease linked to up to 40 per cent of all cancers.

The research, published in Obesity, the Obesity Society’s research journal, one of the world’s leading peer-reviewed obesity journals, also shows that the restored cancer-killing effect of the NK cells is independent of the GLP-1’s main weight loss function, so it appears the treatment is directly kick-starting the NK cells’ engine.

Dr Andrew E Hogan, Associate Professor & Principal Investigator, Lonsdale Human Health Institute in Maynooth University, discussed the findings: “My team and I are very excited by these new findings in relation to the effects of the GLP-1 treatment on people with obesity and it appears to result in real tangible benefits for those currently on the drug.

“While these findings will understandably be welcomed by those living with obesity and looking for safe and effective treatments, it must be noted that unfortunately, these treatments are not fully covered by the Government’s Drug Payment Scheme. With the findings of this research, it’s more important than ever that the HSE work with the Government to ensure the benefits of this treatment become available to as many individuals as possible and as soon as possible.

“Secondly, given the recent spike in popularity related to the benefits of the GLP-1 treatment with global and high-profile celebrities commenting on its success, global demand has increased and resulted in a worldwide shortage of the drug.

“Again, I hope this is something that is brought under control to ensure as many people as possible living with obesity can start their own treatment of this beneficial drug.”

Mr Conor de Barra, PhD student in immunology at Maynooth University and Irish Research Council Scholar, who led the work in Dr Hogan’s lab on this particular research, said: “People with obesity can develop a variety of health problems like type 2 diabetes, sleep apnoea and cancer. These can have very negative impacts on their quality of life. This research and other promising findings on improvements in cardiovascular health after GLP-1 therapy indicate potential benefits in addition to weight-loss.”

Prof Donal O’Shea, HSE National Lead for Obesity and Principal Investigator, said: “We are finally reaching the point where medical treatments for the disease of obesity are being shown to prevent the complications of having obesity. The current findings represent very positive news for people living with obesity on GLP-1 therapy and suggest the benefits of this family of treatments may extend to a reduction in cancer risk.”

Dr Hogan presented these findings at the 30th European Congress on Obesity, which was held in Dublin on 20May.

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