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December 6, 2004

ULM Researchers Have Made a Discovery That Could Lead to a New Pill to Battle Obesity, Fight Disease

MONROE, La. - Most people know that consuming fewer calories is good for their health; but achieving a lower-calorie diet is a challenge, particularly during the holidays.

What if you could take a pill along with your holiday feast that would allow you to eat the foods you crave, but signal to your body that you're eating less? Thanks in part to researchers at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, such a pill could be in the works in the future, allowing people not only to be more fit but also to fight obesity and disease.

Scientists from the UL Monroe School of Pharmacy, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Toxicogenomics of North Carolina and the Karolinska Institute of Sweden have discovered that PPAR-alpha, a receptor in the body that helps lower cholesterol and triglycerides, also helps the body fight disease.

"We've found that this receptor that exists in all of us becomes more active as a result of a lower-calorie diet, actually helping the body fight disease" said Dr. Harihara M. Mehendale, ULM Professor and Kitty DeGree Endowed Chair in Toxicology. "More importantly, you don't have to be on a restricted diet for long before the body responds in this beneficial way."

Researchers are working to produce a drug that will trick the body into thinking it's getting fewer calories and increase the activity of the PPAR-alpha receptors, leading to better overall health.
In its research, the team examined the genetic changes that occurred over one month in mice fed a diet containing 35 percent fewer calories than normal. They then injected the mice with a substance designed to attack the liver. Seventy-percent of these mice survived. "They were not immune to the toxin, but their low-calorie diet made them better able to repair the damage and ultimately survive," Dr. Mehendale said. "We repeated the same experiment with mice that had been genetically altered to eliminate the PPAR-alpha receptor, and these mice did not survive. That's what confirmed that we were onto something."

Researchers are years away from developing a pill to make PPAR-alpha receptors more active, but Mehendale says such work could have significant implications for the treatment of cancer and heart disease.

In the meantime, he said, diet and exercise are still the best way to maintain proper health.

"Diet and exercise are keys to protecting ourselves from cancer and all diseases. They increase longevity, and improve quality of life," said Dr. Mehendale.

Dr. Mehendale's research is being supported by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Louisiana Board of Regents Support Fund, Marie Curie Fellowship of the European Community Program Human Potential, Swedish Science Council and KaroBio.

Several students at ULM are involved in Dr. Mehendale's research. They are gaining real-world lab experience and in turn, ULM is preparing researchers for tomorrow.

ULM student and part of Dr. Mehendale's research team, Jaya Chilakapati, says the discovery of PPAR-alpha is exciting. "This project shows the relevance of maintaining a restricted diet. In the animals that were fed a restricted diet, you can actually see that they were more active. It shows us the importance of eating less and how healthy we can be just by restricting the number of calories we eat."

ULM is the only state supported School of Pharmacy in Louisiana and accepts 100 new students per year into the Professional Pharm-D Curriculum. The university also offers master's and Ph.D. degrees in Pharmacy, Pharmacy Administration, Pharmaceutics, Medical Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Toxicology tracks. ULM Pharmacy students experienced a 100% first time pass rate on the 2004 NABPLEX Board exam.

The School of Pharmacy within the College of Health Sciences also provides specialty services for the entire state through the services of the Louisiana Drug and Poison Information Center (handling over 85,000 calls per year), the Louisiana Institute of Toxicology, and affiliation with the State Department of Health and Hospitals' Medicaid program. The School of Pharmacy's research and contract funding exceeds $5 million per year.

Read more about Dr. Mehendale and his research at

Photos of Dr. Mehendale and students working in the lab are also available at
Please call or e-mail if you would like the photos in a larger size.

10 Tips to Stay Healthy This Holiday

1. Eat healthy
2. Exercise. Have a plan and obey the plan
3. Eat fruits and vegetables
4. Don't skip any meals but limit the eating portion size
5. Drink plenty of water. Avoid carbonated drinks.
6. Lower consumption sugar loaded drinks.
7. Do not consume excess alcoholic beverages.
8. Do not smoke or chew tobacco
9. Get regular sleep
10. Lower stress

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