Obesity can be a compounding problem making it difficult for a person to exercise and lose weight. However, new studies at the University of Wyoming show a spicy compound in chili peppers could help fat burn to produce energy.
UW professor of pharmacy Baskaran Thyagarajan created BaskiLab three years ago with a focus on treating and mitigating obesity.
Currently, much of his research is based around capsaicin — the compound that makes chili peppers spicy, Thyagarajan said.
“This is a great discovery,” he said. “The novelty of our research is identifying a proper human dose to prevent and treat obesity.”
Eating a lot of chili peppers is not going to keep you thin, Thyagarajan explained.
Specific amounts of capsaicin need to be used for the effects to come in to play.
There are two kinds of fat in the body. One type, known as brown fat, is good — it burns fat and expends energy, Thyagarajan said. White fat buildup is what can cause obesity.
“We discovered a method by which we’ll be able to specifically induce genes to turn white fat into brown fat,” he said. “In one way, we can totally revamp the way we can deliver agents to specific areas.”
Mice are being used to test the various compounds. At this point, more than 50 cages with anywhere from two-four mice per cage are being used to check the effects of capsaicin in diet.
Graduate student Vivek Krishnan, one of eight people that are currently working in BaskiLab along with, a senior researcher and six undergraduates, explained specific doses of capsaicin are having a great effect on the mice, which are being fed a high diet of fat.
“The ones we are feeding without capsaicin are about 60 grams each,” he said. “The ones we are feeding the same food with capsaicin are weigh 30 grams.”
The results show three years of lab work is producing results. As a control to compare results, mice which run on treadmills for an hour a day also weigh about 30 grams.
Thyagarajan is now searching for grants for the next phase of research — human clinical studies.
“The immediate next step is to translate our lab results to a human clinical study,” he said. “Specifically, to try the delivery system for treating obesity.”
While measuring capsaicin’s effect on obesity is one goal, a new system of injecting drugs in certain parts of the body is another. This precision can translate over to other drugs, including cancer-fighting agents.
Research is a main goal of the lab, but students can also gain useful experience is biomedical research few other undergraduates can get.
“Originally, I came here for the experience,” undergraduate Kara Nazminia said. “But you get so wrapped up in the research you don’t want to stop.”
BaskiLab could produce a usable product in four-five years, Thyagarajan said.
“We don’t want to just work on a project that stays in the four walls of the lab,” he said. “We want it to get to the public.”