HKU researchers discover new biologics for obesity-related diseases

1 December 2021

Obesity is a global pandemic associated with a significantly reduced life expectancy due to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease and cancer.

Adiponectin, as a protein hormone and adipokine, regulates glucose levels and improves lipid metabolism, and is a major player in the pathogenesis of obesity, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Obese patients have low adiponectin levels, a condition known as hypoadiponectinemia, which contributes to increased risks of cardiovascular, metabolic diseases as well as aggressive development of malignancies with poor prognoses.

Adiponectin supplementation is a long-sought-after strategy for the prevention and treatment of cancer and metabolic diseases, especially in obese patients. However, adiponectin application in therapy has been hampered by the difficult production of human adiponectin.

University of Hong Kong research teams led by Prof Li Xuechen (Croucher Senior Research Fellowship 2018) from the Research Division for Chemistry and Department of Chemistry, and Prof Wang Yu from the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, have spent seven years developing synthetic compounds which can mimic the bioactivity of adiponectin.

These adiponectin-derived glycopeptides have exhibited potent anti-tumour, insulin-sensitising and metabolic activities in various mouse models, according to a report in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The apparent advantage of these synthetic glycopeptides is that they can be readily produced by chemical process. The products hold great potential for clinical application in obesity and related medical complications, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease and cancer.

Their finding enables the exploration of using the synthetic glycopeptide as a potential adiponectin downsized mimic supplementary in clinical treatment. The two teams are applying for research grants to support the further evaluation of the potential of these agents in preclinical studies for drug development.

Prof Li Xuechen is Professor of Chemistry at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Nankai University, MSc from University of Alberta and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2006, followed by joint postdoctoral research at Columbia University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (2007-2009). He joined the HKU Department of Chemistry as an Assistant Professor in 2009. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2014. Li was named Professor in 2018.

To view Prof Li’s Croucher profile, please click here.