Dr. Alison Wren, Research Fellow at Imperial College, London has isolated a ?hunger hormone? that dramatically boosts human food consumption. Scientists have known for some time that the hormone stimulates hunger in rats, but they had never been able to identify its effects in humans. Now they have shown that it can make people so ravenous they eat nearly a third more food than usual.

?There is currently little effective medical treatment for obesity and we are very excited to have taken this step toward a future therapy,? Wren says.

Ghrelin, named after the Hindi word for growth, is the first such hormone circulating in the blood to have been isolated. ?I am sure there will be pharmaceutical companies looking at this research. We hope that by targeting ghrelin with specific drugs, it may be possible to therapeutically control hunger.?

Fellow researcher Steve Bloom, Head of the Department of Metabolic Medicine at Hammersmith Hospital, London, says, ?The advantages of this kind of therapy may extend beyond the treatment of obese patients and include conditions that induce a dangerous loss of appetite, such as cancer. In cases such as this, ghrelin supplements could potentially help to normalize eating patterns.?

The researchers designed a study in which five men and four women volunteers were given a dose of ghrelin or a placebo and told to eat as much as they wanted. One week later, the experiment was repeated, except that those who had been on placebo now received the hormone, and vice versa.

The results revealed that those volunteers who received the hormone consumed an average of 28 per cent more calories than those who received the placebo. Wren says, ?We were trying to mimic levels of ghrelin after an overnight fast and may have overdone it a bit.?

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