Two types of fat – “good” and “bad” – could lead to new drug treatments to combat obesity, according to new research reported in the journal Nature.
The “bad” white fat and “good” calorie-burning brown fat are very different kinds of tissue, and understanding how brown fat forms may help scientists tackle the problem of weight gain.
Brown fat was first described in 1551 by the Swiss naturalist Konrad Gessner, who said that it was “neither fat nor flesh, but something in-between”.
The researchers have found that brown fat burns up calories and generates heat. While abundant in infants, it is much less common in adults, and scientists believe if adult levels of brown fat can be increased, it could help to overcome obesity.
Studies at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, shows that the molecular switch PRDM16 is the “master regulator” of brown fat development. Further research might see if boosting PRDM16 with drugs can convert white fat into brown fat.
Meanwhile, other scientists from the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston have identified a protein called BMP-7 that drives the conversion of muscle pre-cursor cells into mature brown fat cells.
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