New studies shows that brown fat can be increased by stimulation of stem cell differentiation in the adult body
Professor Yihai Cao, Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell biology, is the corresponding author of a study recently published in PNAS, explaining how brown adipose tissue (BAT) can be increased in the adult human body.
Congratulations on your publication Professor Cao! Tell us about the most important results of your study?
“Thank you! The most important discovery is that this study for the first time describes a drug-based method to increase brown adipose tissue (BAT) mass in adult animals. We call the increased brown fat megaBAT, which is fully functional and increases energy expenditure when becomes activated. Previous studies show that the size of BAT is fixed in adults. Our findings have changed this view, and show that we can increase BAT tissue mass by controlling stem cell differentiation within the adult body. There is no need to take out stem cells to culture for differentiation. We discovered a mechanism that we call gatekeeper to control stem cell differentiation into BAT cells in the adult body. Based on this finding, we believe that we will be able to use this method to treat metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.”
Can you tell us more about the potential application on metabolic diseases?
“By increasing the size of the so called good fat, that is the brown fat, we increase energy consumption. Because activation of brown fat has been implied for treating a number of diseases, including obesity, diabetes, inflammation and even cancer, increasing the tissue size of brown fat would potentially enhance the therapeutic effects.”
You conducted the study on mice, how can this be applicable on humans?
“Because brown fat exists in adult humans and it can be activated by cold exposure and drugs, increasing the size of brown fat in adult humans would be possible based on our findings in mice. Stem cell differentiation towards brown adipocytes utilizes a similar mechanism in mice and humans. Therefore, it is reasonably speculated that this method would also work for humans. For future studies, it would be important to develop new drugs for human use based on this mechanism. If such drugs are available, it would have significant implications for treatment of diabetes, cancer and other metabolic diseases.”