A Pill That Claims To Make You Tan, Thin And Sexy

What if we told you there was one simple medicine that could make you tan, thin and sexy all at once? Skin cancer researchers say they've made a phenomenal discovery... by accident! Many are calling it the "Barbie Drug." But as it gets closer to market, there's growing concern about promises of perfection. Even if it works, could it send the wrong message? We take a look in this report.

"I would say we've hit upon a very important discovery, a great hope for mankind," says one researcher. What's all the excitement about? A synthetic hormone that's on the pharmaceutical fast track. Could it solve your beauty and bedroom needs all at the same time? "I would say you're nuts," says a skeptical consumer. Another adds, "I doubt it would work."

But scientists at the University of Arizona say doubt no more. Dr. Robert Dorr with University of Arizona says, "You could theoretically get tanned and have, certainly, a lot of erectile activity and you might actually start to lose weight." It may be making headlines as the "Barbie Drug." But it started as serious work. Skin cancer researchers decided to test a hormone called melanotan two on a group of men. Their hope, to stimulate a natural tan without the sun. But, in addition to the glowing skin they got, they stumbled on surprising side effects. So exciting that one researcher even tried it out on himself. Dr. Mac Hadley with the University of Arizona says, "After about ten days of taking this melanotan two, I lost about ten pounds." Dr. Dorr goes on to say, "We know that it causes short-term feeling of fullness or nausea." Researchers say the hormone also triggers immediate sexual benefits. "Even at a very low starting dose, every subject had an erection," says Dr. Dorr.

But other doctors are skeptical, "I think we have to be exceptionally cautious when we're thinking of using a drug like this, particularly if we think one dose will do a lot of different things. It's not necessarily a good thing. There is no one perfect drug," says Channel 7 med team Dr. Ed Dominguez.." Dr. Ed is leery about the "Barbie Drug" since we don't know if there are any serious side effects. He goes on to say, "Metabolism with thyroid hormone and cortisone and other types of hormones in the body is a very well balanced process and when you bring in drugs that alter that, I think we've already seen that with the phen-fen fiasco, the types of things that people can develop."

Several companies are developing customized drugs based on melanotan two. Each is focused on a different benefit. An Australian lab is now testing an injection called epitan. It's single claim: tanned skin without any of the dangerous side effects from u-v rays. "It is a total duplicate of the normal tanning process in humans, except it occurs without sunlight," explains Terry Winters with Epitan..

Here in the U-S, researchers are working on a sexual spin-off called P-T-ONE-41. It's a nasal spray that promises to boost the libido in both men and women. Carl Spana with Palatin Technologies says, "When we give it to humans, it produces blood flow into the genitalia."

And while each product will be marketed for one specific use, researchers say it's a win...win...win situation for patients. If you take it as a sexual enhancer Dr. Dorr says, "It would also cause tanning, if you used it frequently, and it would have the weight loss potential."

"Any pill that can help people lose weight, get a tan and improve their sex life has got to be a winner for a lot of people," says Monica Ramirez Basco. She is a psychologist and author of "Never Good Enough," Dr. Basco says she sees the benefits, but worries about the ideology a drug like this would encourage. "It just raises the bar. So now, everybody is expected to be thin enough, and beautiful enough, and sexy enough and it just creates a whole new way to feel like a failure," says Dr. Basco.

"I'm sure the FDA is going to look very very closely at a drug like this hoping this will be considered a drug and not a supplement, because the FDA doesn't have to approve supplements, it only has to approve drugs," says Dr. Ed.

Despite the worries, some say the "Barbie Drug" is something they'd like to toy with. "Sure, I'd take it," says one consumer. Another adds, "I think it's a great pill. Three in one." As for a version promoting weight loss, it's also in the works, but is in its initial stages. Epitan has completed phase 2 clinical trials in Australia and is expecting FDA approval to begin trials here by mid- 2004. P-T 141 has completed phase 2 clinical trials in this country.

How far are we going to make ourselves perfect? Head back to our home page and click on the "Know More on 7" icon. Then click on the "Barbie Drug" link and we'll give you 'the skinny!'

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.