Washington: A new discovery may pave way for treating obesity not just by diet and exercise, but simply by burning the right kind of fat – brown fat.
Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center have identified progenitor cells in mouse white fat tissue and skeletal muscle that can be transformed into brown fat cells.
"It``s particularly exciting because we found that some of these cells are located in subcutaneous white fat, which could be a very accessible source for them," said Yu-Hua Tseng.
The team carried out in vitro tests of cells in mice found in different fat tissues and skeletal muscle that were marked with a protein called Sca1.
When the researchers exposed the isolated precursor cells to BMP-7 in vitro and re-injected them into the mice, where the cells survived and transfigured into mature brown fat.
"We are still looking for the human equivalent of the Sca1 marker for these progenitor cells. But we also tested cells isolated from different kinds of human fat, and we found that BMP-7 can induce precursors derived from human white fat to show a marker of differentiated brown fat cells,” said Tseng.
"Given that obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other metabolic disease, finding new ways to reduce body weight is really essential," she said.
"Of course, diet and exercise are still the best approaches for losing weight in the general population, but for people who are genetically predisposed to obesity, or those who already develop detrimental metabolic disorders due to excess body weight, there is an urgent need to develop new interventions for effective and safe weight reduction. These results appear to take a significant step toward using brown fat cells in such therapies."
The study is published online in the journal PNAS in the week of December 20, 2010.