‘Baby’ Fat Cells May Be Key To Treating Obesity, Say Researchers

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Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have discovered the location of immature fat cells which reside in blood vessel walls.  When a person takes in more calories than he or she can expend, these ‘baby’ fat cells begin to mature and are responsible for excess fat storage. By identifying where these fat cells exist in the body, future studies may reveal ways in which to inhibit them from converting calories into fat.

"There’s both intellectual and clinical importance in this discovery," said Dr. Jonathan Graff, associate professor of developmental biology and molecular biology at UT Southwestern (picture on right) and senior author of the study, which appears in today’s online edition of the journal Science. "Identifying the progenitor cells and finding where they live gives us an exciting therapeutic opportunity.

"Since we can now isolate the progenitor cells, we can interrogate them molecularly and gain insight not only into how they function but also how to harness their powers to help in a variety of human conditions. And because we have found their location, we might be able to develop therapies that can help people with obesity, [type 2 diabetes] or other metabolic challenges."

The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Excellence for Education Foundation, involved engineering mice so that the stem cells glowed green, allowing researchers to track them from ‘baby’ to adult fat cells.

If researchers can learn how to isolate and remove these progenitor fat cells, they could transplant them to other places in the body to treat various diseases, including obesity, diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Graff also believes that these progenitor – or adult stem cells – could also be used for wound healing, or filling in areas in a woman’s breast after a lumpectomy or other reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.

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