Accidental discoveries have led to some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in history, such as penicillin. And it seems that researchers from the University of Pennsylvania may have stumbled upon a new weight loss therapy purely by chance. While initially seeking a treatment for type 2 diabetes, the team found that a cytokine called thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) caused mice to secrete a slimy substance through their skin, which turned out to be fat.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Science, detailing their use of an adenovirus vector to inject TSLP into the mice. They had hoped that by activating immune cells responsible for controlling inflammation, they could counteract type 2 diabetes and obesity. However, they were surprised to find that the mice began to shed weight by secreting sebum, an oily substance produced by the skin’s glands.
“The ones that got TSLP [the treatment] they’re always shiny, and I didn’t know what that meant,” said senior author and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Taku Kambayashi, in an interview with Inverse. “When they were losing that much weight, they were, I would say, slimy, almost.”
The TSLP had caused immune T cells to migrate to the glands that secrete sebum, which then secreted more sebum, essentially causing the mice to ‘sweat’ out white adipose tissue, a common form of fat. Throughout the study, the mice lost around half of their entire white adipose tissue, including the particularly dangerous visceral fat that coats the organs and is strongly linked to mortality.
Although the discovery of this potential weight loss therapy is exciting, more research is needed before it can be used widely. The researchers are now investigating the mechanism behind the sebum production and exploring how they can translate their findings into an effective therapy. Nonetheless, the implications of this accidental discovery could be huge. With rising obesity rates, a reliable weight loss method is needed more than ever, and a TSLP-based therapy could be a major breakthrough. Additionally, it could also potentially help treat skin conditions like eczema.
No matter how much research is done in the field of medicine, there will always be surprises and unexpected outcomes. The accidental discovery of this potential weight loss therapy serves as a reminder that sometimes the most valuable discoveries are made by chance.