Cancer-killing benefits of popular obesity treatment

Findings from the Republic of Ireland, in relation to GLP-1 obesity treatment showcase its ability to restore the body’s natural cancer-killing defences.


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

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 NK cell, being rendered useless due to their disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 13 percent of the global adult population suffers from obesity; a disease linked with a higher risk of getting cancer. These cancers make up 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year.

The research, published in Obesity, also shows that the restored cancer-killing effect of 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, 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. 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.” he explained.

Conor de Barra, PhD student in immunology at Maynooth University and Irish Research Council Scholar, who led the work in Hogan’s lab 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 its potential benefits in addition to weight-loss.”

Professor Donal O’Shea, HSE National Lead for Obesity & 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.”

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