Researchers from Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science convert white fat into brown fat with a simple tissue-grafting approach
Brown adipose tissue (BAT) or brown fat developed from embryological muscle cells makes up the adipose organ together with white adipose tissue. Although it is found in abundance in newborns, it is present and metabolically active in adult humans. These tissue burns enormous amounts of energy to generate heat and several studies linked this tissue to weight management and reduction in symptoms of diabetes. However, its prevalence decreases as humans age and no effective method known to increase brown fat was developed yet.
Now, a research led by Sam Sia, professor of biomedical engineering, at the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science, developed a new approach that directly converts white fat to brown fat outside the body. The breakthrough was achieved by using fat-grafting procedures. Several methods of converting white fat into brown fat such as chronic cold exposure and pharmaceuticals with several side effects prove harmful to other organs of the body. However, the researchers stated that the new approach is potentially safer and highly controllable and can be performed using an automated system within a doctor’s office or clinic. The research was published in Scientific Reports on May 21, 2018.
The team cultured tissue fragments in media containing growth factors and other endogenous browning factors for one to three weeks to stimulate the “browning” process to convert white fat to brown fat. The levels of several brown fat biomarkers, mitochondrial activity and the brown fat protein marker UCP1 were measured to assess the browning of the white fat. Moreover, experiments in mice revealed that subcutaneous white fat could be directly converted to brown fat outside the body. Furthermore, the brown fat both survived and remained stable after injection into the same mouse for two months. The method tested on human subcutaneous fat was effective in converting white fat into brown fat and the approach is expected to be a potential therapy in weight management and control of blood glucose levels in diabetes.