Fighting Bad Fat with Good Fat
As with cholesterol, when it comes to fat, there’s a good kind and a bad kind. And UC Berkeley scientists recently discovered how to engineer the growth and expansion of energy-burning “good” fat. This led to findings that such fat actually helped to reduce weight gain and lower blood glucose levels in mice. A study published in the August issue of the journal Diabetes may eventually lead to new approaches to combating obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.
The Berkeley researchers used a specifically tailored hydrogel to “scaffold” and control an implant containing stem cells, in order to form a functional brown-fat-like tissue. While white fat stores excess energy and is associated with obesity, brown fat serves as a heat generator, burning calories as it does its job.
“This is figuratively and literally a hot area of research right now,” says Andreas Stahl, associate professor of nutritional sciences and toxicology (NST) and the study’s senior author. “We’re the first to implant in mice an artificial brown-fat depot and show that it has the expected effects on body temperature and beneficial effects on metabolism.”
Studies have also shown that cold temperatures can bump up activity in brown fat. Stahl notes, however, that the exposure to cold often leads to increases in food intake as well—potentially negating any calorie-burning benefits from brown-fat activity.
“What’s truly exciting about this system is its potential to provide plentiful supplies of brown fat for therapeutic purposes,” says study lead author Kevin Tharp, an NST PhD student. “The implant is made from the stem cells that reside in white fat, which could be made from tissue obtained through liposuction.”