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Fat-Cell Conversion Could Curb Diabetes

Thursday, 07 Jul 2011 09:14 AM

What if unwanted fat cells could be converted into calorie-burning machines?

Research from the National Institutes of Health indicates that this could be a scientific reality. NIH has uncovered a new method to engineer white fat cells in mice to metabolize calories as effectively as “healthier,” energy-burning brown fat cells and muscle. This finding could lead to a future treatment to help curb incidence of Type-2 diabetes and obesity, researchers say.

White fat cells are what are commonly thought of as body fat. They are the calorie-storing cells that, in excess, contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Brown fat, on the other hand, is the fat used by the body to regulate body temperature. Rather than store calories, brown fat burns them in a similar way as muscles do.

The NIH’s mice study revealed the potential for white fat cells to be converted into brown fat cells. Mice were injected with an antibody protein that blocks the TGF-beta protein, which affects the growth and function of cells. As the TGF-beta protein was blocked, the mice’s white fat became overwhelmed with metabolic mitochondria, thereby literally changing the color of the fat. These cells then began burning calories rather than storing them.

“We weren’t looking to have white fat acquire the properties of brown fat, but that’s what we found, with the fat getting browner from increased mitochondria and displaying genes typically expressed in muscle,” Sushil Rane, Ph.D., a researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, said in a statement. “It was a striking difference.”

Side effects of the TGF-beta blocking antibody include weakening of the immune system, but researchers are hopeful that they can design a more targeted study to transform white fat cells of mice into brown fat cells without compromising the mice’s immune systems.

“If continuing research supports current findings, this discovery has the potential to improve the treatment of obesity and the prevention of Type-2 diabetes,” NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers said in a statement.

The TGF-beta blocking antibody is also being tested in a trial at the National Cancer Institute as a potential cancer treatment in humans.



© HealthDay

 
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