The hardest part of any weight-loss diet is the cravings. Soon they could be nothing more than a bad memory, says science

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Image: Have scientists found a way to cure hunger pangs?

Photo: Michelle O'Connell / CC-BY-SA 2.0 / adapted / Flickr: shellewill79

Are the cravings for biccies finally over?

When you’re trying to resist those dastardly hunger pangs (is it lunchtime yet?) and you find yourself jumping head first into the biscuit tin, it can feel like there is no hope. That is, until now.


Scientists from Harvard Medical School and Edinburgh University say they have identified the brain cells that create the sensation of hunger and may have found a way to "switch it off".


Researchers found that a group of brain cells called melanoncortin-4 receptor (MC4R) appeared to be important in the regulation of controlling and inhibiting appetite.


The researchers altered the MC4R cells in a group of mice and saw a change in the amount of food they ate. This indicated their desire to eat had also been altered.


Scientists believe that, by targeting weight-loss drugs at these neurons, they may be able to help those wanting to lose weight by reducing the sensation of feeling hungry.


Although the experiment was not conducted on humans, both institutions believe the results could lead to a new diet pill.


Researcher Bradford Lowell said: “Turning on the satiety neurons had the same effect as dieting, but because it directly reduced hunger drive it did not cause the gnawing feelings of discomfort that often comes with dieting.”


As part of the study, scientists tried to determine the feelings these neurons generate when active. To test this, hungry mice were put in a box with two sections, one of which was lit with a blue laser light that activated the MC4R satiation pathway. The hungry mice were drawn to this side of the box (suggesting that they preferred it), while the mice that had just eaten showed no preference.


Alistair Garfield, researcher at Edinburgh University, added: “If you could design a magic bullet, something that could fly through the brain and hit just these cells and turn them on, then I think we would see the same effects in humans as in mice.


“The problem is that it is very difficult to design a drug that is so specific to one area of the brain.”


While this is yet to be tested on humans, any drug that aims to tinker with chemicals in the brain will need to prove that it is completely safe before it is cleared for use as a diet pill. So until then, we'll just have to keep a lid on the biscuit tin.