A group of scientists from the UT Health Science Center (UTHSC) at San Antonio recently announced the discovery of a molecular pathway, mTORC1, which controls the conversion of bad fat into beige fat, a recently discovered type of fat cell that is able to burn energy inside the human body.
The discovery was followed by the identification of a new protein, Grb10, which reacts to cold stress, helps the body to burn energy, and was identified by the research team as the “on-off” button for the mTORC1 pathway, according to a recent press release. The conclusions of the research were published in the journal Cell Metabolism in June.
According to the study’s senior author, Dr. Feng Lui, professor of pharmacology at the UT Health Science Center in san Antonio, this finding, along with the already existing knowledge that calorie burning is necessary for a lean body, can be very useful in reducing obesity. “Understanding how beigeing is controlled is so very important because if we can improve energy expenditure, we can reduce obesity,” he said.
The scientists also see potential to improve the development of new treatments to fight obesity and type 2 diabetes, metabolic diseases associated with the storage of white fat. Lily Dong, co-author and professor of cellular and structural biology at UTHSCSA, believes that “finding a way to turn the white fat into beige and burn the energy that normally we store would have high therapeutic potential for the treatment of obesity and its related diseases.”
The conclusions drawn by Lui’s research team come two years after the isolation of beige cells by another team of scientists.
In 2008, Dr. Spielgman, Professor of Cell Biology and Medicine at Harvard Medical School, believed to have found a third type of fat cells, beige cells, but in 2012, he and his team from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, led by Dr. Jun Wu, were able to pinpoint and isolate those cells, seen as a key to healthy fat. Back then, this discovery was also seen as a potential help and an advance in fighting obesity and diabetes.
Up until 2008, scientists knew of only two types of fat cells, white and black. White fat cells were known for storing calories and contributing to obesity, while black fat cells were known for burning calories to generate heat.