Scientist looks beyond pharmaceutical horizons

Scientist looks beyond pharmaceutical horizons

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Scientist looks beyond pharmaceutical horizons

Turkish Professor Gökhan Hotamışlıgil, chair of Harvard University’s Department of Genetics ad Complex Diseases, speaks to Hürriyet Daily News reporter Tuba Parlak at Bahçeşehir University, where he will hold a speech today. He is famous for his discovery of the Junk gene, the hereditary cause behind obesity and diabetes.

Simple nutritive items that form our daily diet may be changed into a solution for chronic metabolic diseases, according to Gökhan Hotamışlıgil, the Turkish molecular scientist who is famous for his discovery of the Junk gene, the hereditary cause behind obesity and diabetes.
Hotamışlıgil is a professor of genetics and the metabolism chair of Harvard University’s Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases. He will hold a speech at a molecular science conference at Bahçeşehir University today and will be given the title of honorary PhD at the ceremony.
In an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News, Hotamışlıgil said he had been actively engaged in developing the pharmaceutical concept for the medicine to cure obesity and diabetes by working over the Junk (JNK) gene for 12 years now. “Development of new chemicals so as to render them applicable in the pharmaceutical industry is a time-consuming effort. It sometimes takes 10 or 20 years and it is not preordained whether the efforts will yield successful results.”

He also said that due to this hardship, no new medicine targeting chronic metabolic diseases could be launched to the market for a long time, which meant a big pharmaceutical crisis. “This is happening because the patients both ask for a strongly effective medicine, while they do not tolerate the slightest possibility of side-effects, which is not a very realistic expectation. Even aspirin is becoming the cause of death for thousands of people on a yearly basis,” he said.

In today’s conference, Hotamışlıgil will discuss his recent efforts to make that change possible. “Five major chronic metabolic diseases have become a huge burden on national GDPs worldwide, both in terms of costs related to health services, pharmaceutical expenses and social security input, and in terms of the labor loss. These diseases are obesity, diabetes, cardiac diseases, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. The projection for 25 years later is the total cost of these sicknesses on global GDP will reach $70 trillion, which means we will need to spend 70 percent of the global GDP to take these diseases under control, and that is highly improbable.”

He also said the expense level and the economic downfall it will bring would have its worst effects on developing countries like Turkey. “Therefore we have to quicken our steps in turning the scientific developments into medical output. We need to go beyond the horizons of the current pharmaceutical strategies.”

Eliminating the side effects: Daily food

Hotamışlıgil said that while turning chemicals into feasibly safe pharmaceutical means might take decades due to their risk profile, foods that form our daily diet could be easily turned to healing means. “We used to work on molecular effects in developing pharmaceutical concepts. But now in order to prevent side-effects, we are finding molecules which do not have side-effects and then work on their possible effects. To eliminate the risk factor, our best source is daily food, which could be transferred to clinical study area in so short a time as two years.”

Hotamışlıgil’s method is based on removing dangerous or health-threatening molecule or molecules from our daily food items. “This way you can save millions. This is not the same thing as using genetically modified organisms in agricultural production. We are getting rid of non-healthful molecules and purifying our daily food, which is a very cost-effective solution in the long term. And we have received successful results from our studies in this field.”

He added that he was also working on developing a vaccine for metabolic diseases. “We have recently found a protein that triggers the liver into producing excessive glucose. We are now working on developing a vaccine against that protein together with an industry giant. We are expecting to announce results towards the end of this year.”