Medical scientists have identified a genetic “switch” that turns on the body’s natural fat-burning systems like a biological furnace.
The switch, discovered by researchers at the University of Bonn, triggers the body to convert unhealthy “white fat” cells into calorie-burning “brown fat” cells to melt away extra pounds.
The finding, reported in the scientific journal Nature Communications, points the way to potential new obesity treatments.
Alexander Pfeifer, M.D., director of the Bonn Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology, noted not all at fat in the body is the same. The familiar “white” or “yellow” fat that builds up from overeating and lack of exercise is unhealthy and linked to a variety of health problems, from diabetes to heart disease. But “brown fat,” discovered about five years ago, actually burns excess energy and helps people lose weight.
Dr. Pfeifer has spent years experimenting with animals to explore how the undesirable white fat might be converted into healthy brown fat.
"In this way, excess pounds may be able to simply be melted away and obesity combated," he said.
For the new study, researchers have now decoded a genetic "microRNA switch" in mice that regulates brown fat cells. They said the results are a potential starting point for drugs to combat obesity.
"However, we are still in the basic research stage," said Dr. Pfeifer. “The path to suitable drugs is still a long one.”
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