Ottawa scientists find way to trigger calorie-burning ‘brown fat’


Scientists at the University of Ottawa have used muscle stem cells to produce calorie-burning brown fat in laboratory mice, and this could become an effective treatment against the rising epidemic of obesity in Canada.

Brown fat is one of two types of fat produced in the bodies of mammals. It is considered the "good" fat in contrast to "bad" white fat, as it is a heat-generating tissue that burns off the calories that are stored in white fat, and it is most often found in newborns and in hibernating animals.

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Researchers at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), an affiliate of the University of Ottawa, used adult muscle stem cells to make a compound that, when injected into the hind legs of lab mice, promoted the production of brown fat and caused a significant loss of weight in the mice. Even after four months, the mice still showed healthy fat levels and better glucose control.

“We were really surprised that, months after the intervention — and we looked as long as four months after — that these mice were slimmer than the control mice, and they continued to get slimmer,” said Dr. Michael Rudnicki, the director for the Regenerative Medicine Program and Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research at OHRI.

"This discovery significantly advances our ability to harness this good fat in the battle against bad fat and all the associated health risks that come with being overweight and obese," he added.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of 2007, nearly one in four adult Canadians is considered obese, with an even higher percentage identified as being overweight. That same year, the World Health Organization ranked Canada 35th on the list of the world's fattest countries, with 61.1% of population aged 15 or over considered at least overweight.

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Although the results, published yesterday in the journal Cell Metabolism, are promising, using this new discovery as a cure for obesity, though, is still a ways off.

"While we are very excited by this breakthrough, we acknowledge that it's a first step," says Dr. Rudnicki. "There are still many questions to be answered, such as: Will it help adults who are already obese to lose weight? How should it be administered? How long do the effects last? Are there adverse effects we have not observed yet?"

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