Researchers at North­eastern University’s Center for Drug Dis­covery (CDD) and the National Insti­tutes of Health have cre­ated a weight-​​loss com­pound that reduces the meta­bolic and hor­monal con­se­quences of obe­sity, including dia­betes, insulin resis­tance and fatty liver, without causing psy­cho­log­ical side effects.

The find­ings were reported last month in the Journal of Clin­ical Investigation.

Reuters and Sci­enceDaily were among the pub­li­ca­tions that reported on the study.

We’re very excited because it’s the first com­pound of its kind,” said CDD director Alexan­dros Makriyannis, holder of the Behrakis Trustee Chair in Phar­ma­ceu­tical Biotech­nology and a con­trib­utor to the study. “It’s promising because it has a benign profile.”

Dr. George Kunos, the sci­en­tific director of the National Insti­tute on Alcohol Abuse and Alco­holism, con­tributed to the report.

The new com­pound sup­presses appetite through a highly inno­v­a­tive approach: blocking the acti­va­tion of endo­cannabi­noid recep­tors in organs such as the liver, intes­tine and pan­creas, without tar­geting the brain. Endo­cannabi­noids are nat­ural “lipid mes­sen­gers” in the body that have some of the prop­er­ties of delta-​​9 tetrahy­dro­cannabinol, the active com­pound in marijuana.

Weight-​​loss drugs that deac­ti­vate endo­cannabi­noid recep­tors in the brain have been linked to nausea, anx­iety and depres­sion. Acom­plia, a pop­ular weight-​​loss drug in Britain, was taken off the shelves after a number of users died and hun­dreds of others expe­ri­enced psy­cho­log­ical side effects.

Researchers tested the new com­pound on mice. They found that mice that got fat from overeating lost 12 per­cent of their body weight, and expe­ri­enced a reduc­tion in levels of blood fats and blood sugar, without any effect on behav­ioral responses. The con­trol group of mice lost no weight.

The next step is to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion to test the com­pound on humans, said Makriyannis.

The CDD is ded­i­cated to the dis­covery of novel med­ica­tions and the devel­op­ment of approaches and tech­nolo­gies aimed at improving the dis­covery of new ther­a­peutic drugs. It is among a number of cen­ters that con­tribute to Northeastern’s research focus in the areas of health, secu­rity and sustainability.