NCATS-Supported Research Shows Potential for Altering Body Fat

Brown fat is tissue in the body that can burn large amounts of energy and generate heat. Scientists have been studying brown fat to treat obesity, but they have not found a practical, safe way to increase this fat or to make it from white fat, which stores energy.

After seven days of the new browning process, human white fat tissue looks like brown fat.

After seven days of the new browning process, human white fat tissue looks like brown fat. (Brian M. Gillette/Columbia University Photo)

That is, until now: Researchers at Columbia University have discovered a new way to take white fat from a mouse, turn it into brown fat and return it to the mouse. Nicole Blumenfeld, lead author on the 2018 study, is a biomedical engineering Ph.D. student and a Precision Medicine Predoctoral Fellow supported by NCATS’ Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program hub at Columbia University.

The new fat conversion process starts with removing some white fat and placing it in a liquid containing six different compounds. After three weeks, the tissue had the properties of brown fat. The team returned this newly brown fat to the mice, and eight weeks later, the tissue seemed to be working normally. The team also tried the process on human white fat tissue, which turned into what appeared to be brown fat.

Although obese mice with converted brown fat did not lose more weight than mice who were not given more brown fat, the researchers hope future work will improve the process and lead to weight loss. This progress could set the stage for testing in humans and potentially a much-needed new treatment approach for obesity.

Read more about this advance from Columbia University.

Posted November 2018