[Researcher of the Month] Obesity, Everyone’s Enemy
Kim Yong-hee (Department of Bio-Engineering)
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Regardless of gender, age, and nationality, obesity is a health problem that is affecting an increasing number of people. While most people think obesity merely has to do with dietary habit, it shows close relations with metabolic diseases and cancer. In other words, obesity is not just caused by the consumption of large calories, but there are other possible factors to it. Kim Yong-hee (Department of Bio-Engineering), whose interest lies in obesity and the ways to prevent and cure it, discovered an innovative way to counteract obesity in his paper “Visceral adipose tissue macrophage-targeted TACE silencing to treat obesity-induced type 2 diabetes,” which was coauthored by two of the graduate school students of the department: Song Yoon-sung (2nd year) and Yong Seok-beom (3rd year).
The existing method used to treat obesity was to suppress appetite by touching the nerve system, for it was mainly believed that the root cause of obesity was excessive-consumption. However, Kim discovered in his laboratory that obesity has to do with inflammation within fat-storing tissues, which are called adipose tissues. Inside a patient’s body, the excess fat that cannot be stored in the adipose tissue spreads to its surroundings, which then causes inflammation when in contact with other types of cells. A type of white blood cell that engulfs and digests foreign cellular debris called macrophage are largely responsible for obesity-induced adipose tissue inflammation. A breakthrough in Kim’s research is that obesity can be treated by preventing the accumulation of fat within the body, by controlling the inflammation through gene delivery, not by suppressing appetite.
In such a scenario, the gene delivery system Kim and his students have invented in the laboratory refers to the targeted gene delivery system that is capable of selectively targeting the visceral (relating to the intestines) adipose tissue macrophages, which are the major cause of inflammation because they produce a type of protein called cytokine. The excess fats that cannot be stored in the adipose tissue spread to their surroundings, and when they come in contact with cytokines, that is when the inflammation springs. By targeting the inflammation, which is the root cause of obesity, the treatment for obesity is made possible. There have been several clinical studies that have highlighted the significance of inflammation regarding obesity, but few therapeutic approaches have been suggested. Through his research, Kim and his students have proposed a therapeutic strategy of targeted gene delivery that could safely treat the disease without any side effects.
This strategy is also favorable in treating type 2 diabetes, which primarily occurs as a result of obesity. It is preventable by staying at a normal weight through regular exercise or dietary changes. This could also be the way to prevent obesity as well, which, in other words, means that the cause of the two diseases have the same outset, which is the inflammation within the tissues due to being overweight. Therefore, Kim’s proposal of therapeutic approach for obesity can also treat type 2 diabetes. Targeted gene delivery strategy could kill two birds with one stone.
Building on his current studies, Kim’s future research aims to create more formulas for drugs that could treat obesity. “Liposuction is an extremely dangerous surgery because it sucks the good fats as well. Obesity is surely preventable or even cured for those who are not severely obese. However, those who are super-obese, their genes could transform into obese genes and this can affect their children. So, the targeted gene delivery approach can optimally be used in the future.” Kim specifically chose the topic of inflammation of obesity because he wanted to find a narrow gate and open it wide. Since not many solutions for obesity inflammation have been discovered, he wanted to delve into the studies of this topic and create a cure for the countless people waiting for treatment. Kim always aspires to study and research on topics that is subject to a breakthrough outcome.
Jeon Chae-yun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Kabg Cho-hyun
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