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Obesity

Hope for the Overweight & Diabetics

Researchers in Germany and at Harvard have succeeded in distinguishing the various types of fat cells in the body on the basis of their surface proteins. This discovery is raising hope for a new method to treat those suffering from obesity and diabetes. The team was headed by Dr. Siegfried Ussar from the Institute for Diabetes and Obesity (IDO) at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center/ Helmholtz Zentrum München, partner of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), and Professor C. Ronald Kahn from the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School.

A release from the German Research Center explains that white, brown and beige adipocytes, or fat cells, are inherently different. Each of these cell types has different functions and each plays its own role in metabolism. In the human body, white adipose tissue is by far the most prevalent. Its primary function is energy storage. On the other hand, brown adipocytes utilize available energy to generate heat but are only found in a few places in the adult human body. Beige adipocytes, which represent a special type of brown adipocytes, appear mixed with brown adipocytes in human brown adipose tissue or develop within the white adipose tissue, particularly under the influence of cold in rodents.

The good and the bad side of fat

Rapidly growing rates of obesity result in increasing rates of type 2 diabetes and other components of the metabolic syndrome. To ameliorate the consequences of excessive caloric intake and storage, modern medicine is seeking new ways to enhance energy expenditure to reduce body weight. “Because of its function as the body’s thermal power station, brown adipose tissue has the ability to burn large quantities of energy that otherwise would be stored in white adipose tissue as fat,” says first author Siegfried Ussar. For this reason, activation of brown adipose tissue using drugs offers an attractive approach to treat obesity and the illnesses that result from it, such as type 2 diabetes.

The amount of brown adipose tissue varies greatly from individual to individual, and until now it was not possible to determine its proportion reliably. Current methods are based on measuring this tissue’s activity, which greatly depends on outside conditions, such as the temperature or diet. The newly discovered surface proteins now offer an activity independent approach. They additionally make it possible to selectively deliver substances to brown adipose tissue by targeting these proteins.

New hope to finally let fat melt away

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