Could ghrelin be used to stimulate apetite?

10 February 2008

Question

I was interested to hear about ghrelin earlier on in the programme. I wondered if it could be used to help people who’ve got into a condition where they don’t want to eat – providing they want to have the treatment. Couldn’t it stimulate appetite?

Answer

Connie was referring to the news story about "GOAT" (ghrelin O-acyltransferase), which adds a carbon chain to the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is produced by the stomach and stimulates appetite, so targeting it could help develop anti-obesity drugs.

That's a very good suggestion and I suspect the answer is yes. Researchers are eager to find ways to help people who have eating disorders and increase their ability to take onboard food. I don't know if it's actually been trialled though, in the context of people who have an eating disorder. I think it's just healthy volunteers they've tried it on so far but it's a very good point and yes you could make a case for doing that because people are often surprised to learn that the class of psychiatric condition which is associated with the highest rate of suicide and death is not all the things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (manic depression) although they have a very high suicide rate, the rate of death is actually highest amongst people with eating disorders. Anorexia Nervosa, is I believe, associated with more people dying than virtually any other condition. Certainly in young people it's a leading cause of death. Anything that can be done to help them is a really big step forward.

We also had this comment from Rachel in Cambridge:

In eating disorders appetite isn't the driving force behind them. A drug that stimulates appetite might therefore not help because the problem is not a lack of desire to eat but actually not allowing yourself to eat.

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