WASHINGTON — A recent clinical study led by UT Southwestern Medical Centre found that a commonly prescribed weight-loss drug called “liraglutide” successfully targets fat that can help maintain heart health.

The findings of the study were published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Overweight or obese adults with high cardiovascular risk are associated with two risks to their heart health: visceral fat and ectopic fat.

Visceral fat is stored within the abdominal cavity around critical internal organs, such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines. Ectopic fat is stored in tissues that generally contain small amounts of fat, such as the liver, skeletal muscle, heart, and pancreas.

“Our study used the latest imaging technology to evaluate different fat components in the body. The main finding was a significant decrease in visceral fat in patients without diabetes but overweight or had obesity. These results show the potential of liraglutide treatment for significantly lowering the risk of chronic disease in this population,” said Parag Joshi, M.D., preventive cardiologist, Assistant Professor of Cardiology, and senior author of the study.

The 185 study participants were given a once-daily injection of liraglutide over 40 weeks of treatment. The relative effects of liraglutide on fat reduction were two-fold more extraordinary in the abdominal tissues and six-fold greater in the liver than seen on overall body weight.

The treatment effect was consistent across race/ethnicity and Body Mass Index categories and those with or without baseline prediabetes. Liraglutide also reduced fasting blood glucose and inflammation in this trial population without diabetes, most of whom had normal blood sugar levels at baseline.

In a 2016 study, led by UT Southwestern investigators called the Leader trial, the rate of the first occurrence of death from cardiovascular causes, nonfatal myocardial infarction, or nonfatal stroke among patients with type 2 diabetes was lower in those treated with liraglutide than with placebo.

“Our findings help add a possible mechanism for why there is a benefit of liraglutide on cardiovascular outcomes while also showing its benefits in people without diabetes,” said Joshi.

Obesity affects an estimated 1 in every four adults and 1 in every five youths, leading to a substantial risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality, as per the researchers.

“Excess visceral fat and ectopic (e.g., liver) fat are central to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It remains challenging to identify those at highest risk to offer them treatment in addition to lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise,” said Joshi.

An investigator-initiated grant from Novo Nordisk funded the study.

Other UT Southwestern researchers who contributed to the study include Colby R. Ayers, Bienka Lewis, Robert Oslica, Susan Rodder, and Ambarish Pandey.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Saptak Datta and Ritaban Misra

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