Washington: In a new study, researchers have suggested that ordinary fat cells can be reengineered to burn calories.While investigating how a common drug given to people with diabetes works in mice, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) discovered that a protein called PRDM16, found in both men and mice, can throw a switch on fat cells, converting them from ordinary calorie-storing white fat cells into calorie-burning brown fat cells.This discovery makes PRDM16 a possible target for future obesity drugs. Compounds that promote the action of this protein may help people burn calories faster.Though they would have to prove safe and effective in the clinic, such compounds would represent a completely different approach to weight loss. Existing diet drugs aim to restrict the intake of calories — by blocking the absorption of fat in the gut, for instance, or by decreasing appetite.“If you think about the energy balance, the other way to tackle obesity is through energy expenditure,” Shingo Kajimura, the study leader, said.Scientists believe that brown fat originally evolved in early mammals as a defense against the cold. It helps them maintain their body temperature and thrive in the face of challenging environmental extremes. Not all animals share this ability.Many animals, like lizards, are “cold blooded” or exothermic. They maintain their body temperature through completely external means, sunbathing at certain times of the day and huddling in warm, protective places at night.
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