Science Market Update

UCSF Diabetes Research Shows How Drug Triggers Brown Fat and Weight Loss

Posted by Jaimee Saliba on Tue, Mar 13, 2012

There is still no magic pill for the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight, but research into the cellular mechanism of fat production is turning up promising avenues for therapeutics that are closer than you might think.  We mentioned "good brown fat" in a recent article on hormone research at Harvard.  Scientists in the Diabetes Center and the Department of Cell and Tissue Biology at the University of California San Francisco, Parnassus Campus, are also looking at brown fat production as a treatment for obesity. 

In fact, recently published research in the journal Cell Metabolism by Dr. Shingo Kajimura and his colleagues describes how a class of drugs already used to treat diabetes can assist the body in converting stubborn white fat into active brown fat.  While the current drug has many side effects, the recent mouse and culture experiments have added a crucial block of knowledge to the adipose equasion, identifying the "master regulator" protein for brown fat and streamlining the research challenge to one of:

“Can we simply stabilize this protein?”

[Video courtesy of UCSF]

Dr. Kajimura explains that white fat and brown fat actually have two different functions in the body:

  • white fat stores excess energy and accumulates when we gain weight
  • brown fat dissipates, uses energy, and produces heat

The challenge for the body (and researchers trying to heal the overweight body) is to turn white fat into brown, thereby producing energy rather than leaving it in storage.  Building on their earlier work with receptors called PPARγ ligands, Kajimura and his team have identified the specific protein that needs to be activated and present in sufficient quantity to create brown fat from white. This protein, known as PRDM16, is stablized in mouse and culture models when the antidiabetic drugs are administered, with a resulting conversion of white to brown fat. The task now is to find a safer compound to stabilize the protein so that it doesn't break down before it has a chance to accumulate and activate the receptors that induce a brown fat gene program.

Dr. Kajimura's work is currently funded by a $250K 2011 NIH/NIDDK grant through 2014.  The connection to our earlier Harvard blog is not coincidental: Dr. Kajimura came to UCSF from Dana-Farber in Boston, where he worked in the lab of Dr. Bruce Spiegelman, who is a co-author on the current paper.  One of the key developments from previous research is the switch from an invasive cell transplant procedure to a drug-activated one.

Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. will be on the UCSF Parnassus Campus on June 7, 2012 for our 21st semiannual San Francisco Biotechnology Vendor Showcase event. This well-attended trade expo brings together research investigators, lab managers, and purchasing agents with top life science equipment providers to network and discuss lab research needs and new technologies. For information on exhibiting, click the button below:

san francisco research

Tags: University of California San Francisco, cell biology, Diabetes, Southwest, California, San Francisco, Biotechnology Vendor Showcase, BVS

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