Study in mice suggests new way to fight obesity and diabetes
What if you could trick your body into thinking you were racing on a treadmill—and burning off calories at a rapid clip—while simply walking down the street? Changing our rate of energy expenditure is still far into the future, but work in mice explores how this might happen. Two teams of scientists suggest that activating immune cells in fat can convert the tissue from a type of fat that stores energy to one that burns it, opening up potential new therapies for obesity and diabetes.
There are two types of fat in humans: white adipose tissue, which makes up nearly all the fat in adults, and brown adipose tissue, which is found in babies but disappears as they age. Brown fat protects against the cold (it’s also common in animals that hibernate), and researchers have found that mice exposed to cold show a temporary “browning” of some of their white fat. The same effect occurred in preliminary studies of people, where the browning—which creates a tissue known as beige fat—helps generate heat and burn calories. But cold is “the only stimulus we know that can increase beige fat mass or brown fat mass,” says Ajay Chawla, a physiologist at the University of California (UC), San Francisco. He wanted to better understand how cold caused this change in the tissue and whether there was a way to mimic cold and induce browning some other way.