How much do you enjoy dieting? I thought so — most of us would rather play in traffic on the interstate rather than begin or stick to a diet.
And talk about confusing with all the different diets out there. Some are good, others not so much. Some claim to get the fat off fast, and others are slower lifestyle changes. What’s the right way to lose that weight? It depends on you.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42.4 percent of U.S. adults are obese. Even more disturbing is that in just under 20 years, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5 percent to 42.4 percent, while severe obesity increased from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent.
Houston, we have a “major” problem.
The reason for concern about the growing prevalence of obesity are the severity of the downstream health effects. These include stroke, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. The annual medical cost for obesity in the United States is about $178 billion.
A research group at Harvard used CRISPR, the gene editing technique, to convert “white fat cells” into energy-burning brown fat cells. White fat cells are fat storage cells. The other type of fat cell, brown fat cells, are lower in numbers and have the advantage of being able to “burn” fat, as well as storing it. As you age or gain weight, you lose these brown fat cells.
The researchers found a protein that was unique to brown fat cells called UCP1. UCP1 helps in the process of converting fat into energy. The scientists used CRISPR to add an active UCP1 gene into white fat cells.
The engineered cells produced as much UCP1 as brown fat cells. They were designated as HUMBLE cells, which stands for HUMan Brown-Like cElls. HUMBLE cells had more mitochondria, which are the energy-converting organelles inside cells.
In a key experiment, scientists took three groups of a special type of mouse that could have human cells implanted into it. One group had white fat cells transplanted, one group had brown fat cells transplanted, and the third group had HUMBLE cells transplanted. The mice were fed a high-fat diet and monitored.
The mice with white fat cells gained weight, but those that had brown or HUMBLE cells gained much less weight and were more insulin sensitive, suggesting they were less likely to develop diabetes. To make the situation even better, the HUMBLE cells appeared to be able to make other brown fat cells start burning fat. This might mean that only some HUMBLE cells would be needed to help burn fat in patients.
This could be the beginning of a new approach to weight loss for those that just can’t seem to accomplish it by diet or increased exercise. Identifying the signal that increases fat burning in the brown fat cells may be a new target for drugs or treatments to stimulate weight loss.
For some, this could mean a future of weight loss without dieting — maybe I can tolerate those extra pounds a little longer.
Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.