Wednesday, August 12, 2009

‘Brown Fat’ May Be Key In Obesity Battle

"Recent discoveries are highlighting a good type of fat, called ‘brown fat,’ that offers a potential new weapon to scientists looking for ways to fight obesity. Unlike better-known white fat, brown fat converts stored energy into heat. It was long known to exist in infants but had been thought to disappear with age. Then this spring, three research groups reported that brown fat exists in at least some adults. And two groups of Boston researchers have reported finding cellular switches that can be flipped on to make brown fat cells out of ordinary skin cells and other types of cells. ‘This is definitely a very big change in our thinking, because it really does mean now there is an opportunity to really work with this as a way to burn off energy,’ said Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, head of obesity and hormone action research at the Joslin Diabetes Center who is involved in both lines of research. The discoveries raise the possibility that in the future, obesity could be treated by spurring the growth of brown fat cells in patients, transplanting such cells, or increasing the activity level of patients’ existing brown fat, Kahn said. Exercise also offers an effective way to burn more calories, but as Dr. Francesco S. Celi, a clinical investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, says, ‘It’s proven, but it’s tough.’ The new research, he said, allows scientists to start thinking seriously about new ways of upping the calorie burning side of the equation. All the work, outside scientists said, is likely to spur pharmaceutical companies to look at ways to trigger brown fat - whether it is a drug that can promote brown fat growth or activity, or taking cells, turning them into brown fat in a dish, and transplanting it back into people.”

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