British and Swiss researchers who investigated the role of a gene present in fat tissue have made a discovery that eventually might improve the treatment of obesity-related health problems - including diabetes and heart disease, and perhaps obesity itself.

In a study published in the journal Nature Genetics, the researchers identified the gene, KLF14, as a "master switch" that regulates the behavior of other genes found in fat.

"This is the first major study that shows how small changes in one master regulator gene can cause a cascade of other metabolic effects in other genes," co-author Dr. Tim Spector, a professor at King's College London, was quoted as saying on "This has great therapeutic potential."

Even before the new study, the KLF14 gene had been linked to high cholesterol levels and Type 2 diabetes, which has approached epidemic levels worldwide amid a rise in obesity. In the U.S., ABC News reports, obesity-related diseases account for nearly 10 percent of an estimated $147 billion a year in medical spending.

The five-year study examined more than 20,000 genes in fat biopsies from 856 female twins. It found an association between KLF14 and the activity of other genes known to be related to, among other things, body mass index, cholesterol levels, insulin and glucose tolerance.

The researchers are hopeful that their findings could lead to the development of new medications that act on KLF14 to reduce genetic susceptibility to a number of risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. But, ABC News notes, "It's possible scientists may be able to switch the gene on and off but the answer to whether that is possible is at least a decade off."

And despite headlines to the contrary, England's official health service website NHS Choices reports that "it is too early to say that KLF14 is 'the gene that makes you fat."' It said that more research is needed to understand how the network of genes related to obesity works