Innovative Technique Converts White Fat to Brown Fat


Source: Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

Summary: A research team has developed a simple, innovative method to directly convert white fat to brown fat outside the body and then reimplant it in a patient.


Brown fat tissue in the body can burn enormous amounts of energy to generate heat, and studies in humans and animals have suggested that increasing the amount of healthy brown fat might help weight management and reduce symptoms of diabetes. However, how to safely and effectively increase brown fat has been a significant challenge for researchers. A research team from the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science has developed a simple, innovative method to directly convert white fat to brown fat outside the body and then reimplant it in a patient. Other methods to increase brown fat include chronic cold exposure, which is uncomfortable for most people, and pharmaceuticals that can cause side effects by targeting other organs. The study findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Fat tissue

Human white adipose tissue cultured in browning media for three weeks and stained with UCP1 (red), Lipidtox (green), and Sytox nuclear stain (blue). Credit: Brian Gillette/Columbia Engineering

The technique uses fat-grafting procedures commonly performed by plastic surgeons, in which fat is harvested from under the skin and then retransplanted into the same patient for cosmetic or reconstructive purposes. The team converted white fat to brown fat by culturing tissue fragments in media containing growth factors and other endogenous browning factors for one to three weeks to stimulate the “browning” process. They assessed the browning of the white fat by measuring levels of several brown fat biomarkers, including mitochondrial activity and the brown fat protein marker UCP1. The study demonstrates a simple and scalable tissue-grafting strategy that increases endogenous brown fat. The researchers are now refining their techniques and dosages and running further studies on the impact of their methods on metabolism and weight regulation.

Prof. San Sia said, “There is a clear need to explore new weight-loss approaches with the potential for low rates of complications and long-term efficacy” and further added “The ability to culture large quantities of tissue at once while retaining its 3-D vascular structure is advantageous and holds promise as a potential approach in clinical weight management.”


More Information: Nicole R. Blumenfeld et al, A direct tissue-grafting approach to increasing endogenous brown fat, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-25866-y 


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