‘Baby’ Fat may Beat Obesity

21 September 2008
Posted by Chris Smith.

It's something that many of us struggle with - fat.  But where does it come from?  Researchers in Dallas have finally tracked down the location of immature fat cells, which hide out waiting for the extra calories that turn them into flab.

For a while, researchers have suspected that immature fat cells, known as progenitors, were hiding in or around the blood vessels that feed fatty tissues, but their precise location wasn't known.  Working with mice, the researchers engineered fat progenitor cells with a gene that makes them glow green, so they could be followed in the body. They discovered that the progenitor cells are embedded in the walls of blood vessels that run through fatty tissues, and are an integral part if the vessel wall.

The researchers think that the cells are there because it enables them to sense the levels of nutrients in the blood.  When they get a whiff of excess calories, they can drift out of the blood vessels and mature into big fat cells.

The green label also meant that researchers could separate the immature fat cells from other cells, and grow them in the lab for further study.  The team hopes that they will understand more about the mechanisms behind fat growth, which could lead to ways to cut obesity and metabolic diseases such as diabetes in the future.  

As well as potentially helping people who struggle with their figure, the research could also point to ways to reactivate immature fat cells -for example, to fill in damaged tissues such as after injury or breast cancer surgery.

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