Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Barbie drug: lose weight with a tan

Originally founded to prevent skin cancer, the drug Melanotan promises success with its ability to tan and also increases sexual desire, as well as acting as a catalyst to weight loss; the drug is also thought to combat diabetes
Posted Fri Oct. 18, 9:51:03 PDT 2002
In order to meet the latest standards in beauty, one must be thin, tan and clear-skinned. Imagine getting all that in a pill.
It's nicknamed the "Barbie and Ken" drug for its beautifying and doll-like side effects and is currently being developed for commercial use in Australia and the United States. Medically referred to as Melanotan, this hormone was originally synthesized as a way to prevent skin cancer but has been found to have many desirable side effects. In human trials, the subjects have reported darker skin, reduced appetite and weight loss, as well as eradicated acne and an increase in libido in men and women. There are also signs that show Melanotan to be capable of combating diabetes, and it also shows some signs of decreasing inflammation.
It may seem odd that a drug intended to hinder skin cancer in fact has other side effects, including tanning the skin."When the skin is burnt the body belatedly produces [the naturally occurring hormone] alpha-MSH," said Wayne Millen, the chief executive of Epitan, the producer of the drug.
The alpha-MSH triggers the melanin in the body, which makes the skin turn brown. The melanin is the body's own protection against harmful ultraviolet rays. However, the melanin comes too late, once the burn has already occurred and the damage is done. The Barbie and Ken drug is simply a synthesis of alpha-MSH, so it works to not only prevent cancerous ultraviolet rays from harming the skin but also to brown the skin.
The tan and increased sexual drive that Melanotan produces do not appear only in humans but in animals as well. In the early testing stages, green frogs injected with Melanotan turned a dark-ink color in 40 seconds. Golden retrievers who were given a dose of Melanotan grew black hair. Lab rats on Melanotan tripled their level of courtship behavior.
"Yes, you will go brown, because you will tan, and the reason you will tan is because the drug itself enables the body to develop melanin," Millen said.
Melanotan may also replace Viagra as the cure for "erectile dysfunction" and offers a much safer response. Melanotan, unlike Viagra, works on the brain's hypothalamus, instead of the blood vessels, so it is not only safe for persons suffering from heart conditions but it also increases sexual drive in women. This is a result of the Melanotan triggering five types of cell receptors in the brain, one of these being emotional and physical energy.
In addition to targeting an emotional and physical energy receptor, the Barbie and Ken drug also triggers an appetite-suppression receptor of the brain that makers of weight-loss drugs commonly take advantage of in their manufacturing.
The only reported negative effects of this drug are occasional flushing of the face, as well as periodic nausea and, in some cases, vomiting. However, these components of Melanotan occurred rarely and only in the early stages of human testing. In order to combat these problems, a nasal-spray form of the drug was developed that in fact works faster and decreases the likelihood of symptoms. A pellet of Melanotan that could be implanted under the skin in a non-intrusive operation is also being developed. Creators of this implant are hopeful that it will keep the patient protected from the sun for six months at a time.
As a result of Melanotan's obvious appeal, two companies, Australia-based Epitan and U.S.-based Palatin, have dedicated themselves to the manufacturing and marketing of Melanotan. Epitan has taken on Melanotan I, which is the tanning compound, while Palatin was awarded the license to manufacture Melanotan II, the impotence variation. These two companies have their hands full because of the potentially gigantic market for Melanotan. The current tanning market in the United States, which includes tanning salons and skin stain products, is worth over $6 billion per year. In addition, half of all Australians will develop some form of skin cancer during their lives. The people of this country might be interested in the possible skin-cancer prevention aspect of Melanotan. Epitan estimates its possible global market for Melanotan at more than $1 billion per year.
Now simply one thing stands in the way of the public and this potent drug: regulatory authorities around the world. It is currently impossible to isolate the different effects of Melanotan and create individual compounds. This is because if a compound triggers one receptor, it could activate other receptors, which could set off different responses, and result in the varied and sometimes unwanted side effects.
"It would be more difficult to get a drug like [Melanotan] approved because what would you call the effect of such a drug and the side-effect?" Palatin employee Dr. Annette Shadiack said. Johnnie Johnson, spokesman for Competitive Technologies Inc., the company that sold the Melanotan technology to Epitan and Palatin, gives another reason that regulatory agencies might not be willing to endorse this drug.
"The Food and Drug Administration is always reluctant to license anything that could be called a 'party drug,'" Johnson said.This could hurt the market for Melanotan in the United States because American consumers are wary about taking a drug that their government does not endorse. In a Fox News poll taken in August 2002, 29 percent of people polled said that the Barbie and Ken drug sounded tempting but that they wouldn't take anything not approved by the FDA.
Even with such obstacles in sight, Epitan and Palatin are optimistic that Melanotan will be approved for prescription use in Australia within the next three years. The companies estimate that Melanotan will be brought to the United States within the next five to 10 years.
"There is a very solid, medical reason to develop this product … we can provide a safeguard for one of the most insidious cancers of all," Millen said.
Vic Health employee Dr. Rob Moodie disagrees."Is it seriously protective or not?" Moodie said. "A lot of drug prescribing is also about fashion."
Despite the obvious vanity and shallowness tied into the promotion of the drug, Barbie and Ken are no doubt about to make their international debut as bearers of beauty. So look out, the world is about to become skin-cancer-free and as hot as, well, Barbie and Ken.

This story originally appeared in The Campanile on October 21, 2002.

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