Researchers find gene linked to thinness

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Envious of friends who stay slim no matter what they eat? One study may explain their thinness.

"We all know these people: it's around one percent of the population," said Josef Penninger, the director of the Life Sciences Institute and professor of the department of medical genetics at the University of British Columbia, in a recent press release. "They can eat whatever they want and be metabolically healthy. They eat a lot, they don't do squats all the time, but they just don't gain weight."

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Through the Estonian Biobank, researchers examined clinical data and DNA samples of 47,102 people ranging from 20 to 44 years old. The study compared those who were “healthy thin” to “normal-weight” and uncovered genetic variants in the thin individuals’ ALK gene. While the gene has been known to mutate in various cancers, the study may point to a role in weight-gain resistance as well.

The team's findings also concluded mice with deleted ALK had lower body weight and fat despite similar diet and activity levels to normal mice, according to the statement.

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Penninger hypothesized therapeutics targeting the gene may help fight obesity in the future. He says it's a realistic possibility because ALK inhibitors are already used in cancer treatments. However, additional research is needed to determine if the inhibitors could be used to promote thinness.

The study reportedly falls short in that biobanks don't have a "universal standard in data collection," which complicates the comparison of data. The team says its findings need to be confimed through a meta-analysis with other data banks.