In a recent study, scientists at the Gladstone Institutes discover an FDA-approved drug can create brown fat that helps lose weight.
The drug could help generate more brown fat, improve metabolisms, and lower body weight gain, even with a high-calorie diet.
Brown fat is different than the more commonly known white fat, which stores energy. In contrast, brown fat helps the body burn energy through heat.
Infants are born with small amounts of brown fat, but as they age, most of it disappears.
In adults, people with more brown fat have lower body mass, and increasing brown fat by as little as 50 grams could lead up to a 10 to 20-pound weight loss in 1 year.
Currently, all weight loss drugs control appetite, and there is nothing on the market that targets energy expenditure.
Creating additional stores of brown fat and boosting its function in the body could help the body burn white fat more easily.
In the study, the team used cellular reprogramming to convert muscle precursor cells and white fat cells into brown fat cells.
The researchers tested 20,000 chemicals until they found one that changed the identity of the cells most effectively.
The winning chemical is an anti-cancer drug called bexarotene (Bex). It targets a protein that was not previously shown to be involved in generating brown fat.
To test how well Bex controls body weight, the scientists fed mice a high-calorie diet for 4 weeks, but they only treated half of the mice with the drug.
The mice that were given Bex had more brown fat, burned more calories, had less body fat, and gained less weight than mice that were fed the same diet but were not given the drug.
The researchers say the technique, which uses cellular reprogramming, could be a new way to combat obesity and type II diabetes.
Their next task is to develop a safer, more targeted drug that only affects genes involved in creating brown fat.
The study first author is Baoming Nie, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral scholar at Gladstone.
The laboratory of Gladstone Senior Investigator is Sheng Ding, Ph.D.
The study is published in Cell Reports.
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