Teaching fat cells to burn calories
In the war against obesity, one's own fat cells may seem an unlikely ally, but new research from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) suggests ordinary fat cells can be reengineered to burn calories. While investigating how a common drug given to people with diabetes works in mice, a UCSF team discovered that a protein called PRDM16, found in both humans and mice, can throw a switch on fat cells, converting them from ordinary calorie-storing white fat cells into calorie-burning brown fat cells. This discovery makes PRDM16 a possible target for future obesity drugs. Compounds that promote the action of this protein may help people burn calories faster. Though they would have to prove safe and effective in the clinic, such compounds would represent a completely different approach to weight loss. Existing diet drugs aim to restrict the intake of calories -- by blocking the absorption of fat in the gut, for instance, or by decreasing appetite.