Public Release: 

Urine profiles provide clues to how obesity causes disease

Imperial College London

Scientists have identified chemical markers in urine associated with body mass, providing insights into how obesity causes disease.

Being overweight or obese is associated with higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, but the mechanisms connecting body fat and disease are not well understood.

The new study, led by Imperial College London, shows that obesity has a 'metabolic signature' detectable in urine samples, pointing to processes that could be targeted to mitigate its effects on health. The findings are published in Science Translational Medicine.

Urine contains a variety of chemicals known as metabolites, from a vast range of biochemical processes in the body. Technologies that analyse the metabolic makeup of a sample can therefore offer huge amounts of information that reflects both a person's genetic makeup and lifestyle factors.

The Imperial researchers analysed urine samples from over 2,000 volunteers in the US and the UK. They found 29 different metabolic products whose levels correlated with the person's body mass index, and how they fit together in a complex network that links many different parts of the body.

Some of these metabolites are produced by bacteria that live in the gut, highlighting the potentially important role these organisms play in obesity. Altered patterns of energy-related metabolites produced in the muscles were also identified as being linked to obesity.

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, Director of the MRC-NIHR National Phenome Centre at Imperial College London and a senior author of the study said: "Obesity has become a huge problem all over the world, threatening to overwhelm health services and drive life expectancy gains into reverse. Tackling it is an urgent priority and it requires us to have a much better understanding of how body fat and other aspects of biology are related. These findings provide possible starting points for new approaches to preventing and treating obesity and its associated diseases."

Professor Paul Elliott, Head of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Imperial, said: "Our results point to patterns of metabolic markers in the urine associated with obesity. It may be possible to identify non-obese people who have such patterns in their urine profile. These people could be at risk of developing obesity and metabolic diseases, and might benefit from personalised preventative interventions."

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The National Phenome Centre is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The study was also supported by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit on Health Impact of Environmental Hazards, the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre, and the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

For more information please contact:

Sam Wong
Research Media Officer
Imperial College London
Email: sam.wong@imperial.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)20 7594 2198
Out of hours duty press officer: +44(0)7803 886 248

Notes to editors:

1. P. Elliott et al. 'Urinary Metabolic Signatures of Human Adiposity.' Science Translational Medicine, 2015. Sci. Transl. Med. 7, 285ra62 (2015).

2. Members of the public can learn more about metabolic profiling at the Imperial Festival on 9-10 May, which showcases the best in science and arts. One of the study authors, Dr Anisha Wijeyesekera, from the Department of Surgery & Cancer, will be at the 'What's in your pee' stand. http://www.imperial.ac.uk/festival

3. About Imperial College London

Imperial College London is one of the world's leading universities. The College's 14,000 students and 7,500 staff are expanding the frontiers of knowledge in science, medicine, engineering and business, and translating their discoveries into benefits for society.

Founded in 1907, Imperial builds on a distinguished past - having pioneered penicillin, holography and fibre optics - to shape the future. Imperial researchers work across disciplines to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable energy technology and address security challenges. This blend of academic excellence and its real-world application feeds into Imperial's exceptional learning environment, where students participate in research to push the limits of their degrees.

Imperial nurtures a dynamic enterprise culture, where collaborations with industrial, healthcare and international partners are the norm. In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.

Imperial has nine London campuses, including Imperial West: a new 25 acre research and innovation centre in White City, west London. At Imperial West, researchers, businesses and higher education partners will co-locate to create value from ideas on a global scale.

http://www.imperial.ac.uk

4. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website.

This article/paper/report presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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