British and Danish scientists have made progress towards the development of a drug that could combat obesity.
Weight gain can be the result of a number of different factors - hormones, for example, control our appetite and the uptake of food.
Researchers have recently begun to investigate these processes as they search for a medical way to fight obesity.
One particular target is a protein which plays a role in different physiological activities such as the production of appetite-controlling hormones and hormones that control the intestinal uptake of food.
The protein, known as FFA4, is found in the cell membranes in intestines, in immune cells and in fat. It is activated by long-chain free fatty acids released from the food such as omega-3 fatty acids, releasing hormones that inhibit our appetite and increase sugar uptake from the blood.
"In some people this protein is not activated and they have a much higher risk of becoming obese. This can be explained by the involvement of the protein in hormone secretion and regulation of inflammation and insulin sensitivity," explains postdoc Bharat Shimpukade from the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at University of Southern Denmark.
Finding a way to activate the protein could help the scientists to develop an anti-obesity drug - but they needed to find the right molecule from an almost infinite supply.
The research team avoided years of painstaking research by developing a computer model of FFA4 that could help to select and test molecules.
"This way we can test thousands of molecules in a very short time before going into the laboratory," said Mr Shimpukade. Experimental studies have confirmed and refined the model.
The same team discovered the first selective activator of FFA4 in 2012 - a compound that is now important for studying the functions of the protein.
In order to administer the drug, the team need a more water-soluble molecule with higher stability - one that will activate the protein and stay in the body for the required time. They have now begun the search using the same model.