Saturday science subject: Injecting fat to lose weight

— 12:41 PM on August 23, 2008

Amid the long list of weight-loss methods, injecting fat cells into your abdomen probably ranks pretty low in most people's minds. Yet the technique could become an effective way to fight obesity, according to findings from a couple of studies published in Nature. The Scientific American reports that the authors of both studies worked with so-called brown fat, which "releases the energy it captures and promotes calorie burning," rather than the white fat humans and other mammals use to store energy.

The two Nature studies describe two different proteins that control the creation of brown fat cells from immature muscle and fat cells in mice. . . . Conceivably, drugs that make more of these proteins could jump-start a conversion of white fat cells to brown fat cells. Alternatively, according to Bruce Spiegelman, co-author of one of the new studies and a biologist at Boston's Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, brown fat cells could one day be transplanted into an obese person's abdomen—where their white fat stores live—to fuel the calorie-burning processes.

One of the studies' co-authors, Harvard biologist Yu-Hua Tseng, tested out the technique on mice:

When she and her team introduced the protein into mice—by attaching it to a disabled common cold virus and letting the pathogen infect the animal's cells—it caused the formation of more brown fat and led to mice that were leaner than those that didn't receive the protein. In addition, Tseng's group showed that immature fat cells transfused into mice produce scores of the protein, and that the cells developed into brown fat, rather than white.

Understandably, Tseng says she aims potential future therapy only at "a segment of the population that is genetically predisposed to be overweight." She stresses that the best way for the general population to remain fit is "still a good diet and exercise."

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