Studies in humans and animals have suggested that increasing the amount of healthy brown fat might help weight management and reduce symptoms of diabetes. However, how to safely and effectively increase brown fat has been a significant challenge for researchers.
Led by Sam Sia, professor of biomedical engineering, a Columbia Engineering team has developed a simple, innovative method to directly convert white fat to brown fat outside the body and then reimplant it in a patient. The technique uses fat-grafting procedures commonly performed by plastic surgeons, in which fat is harvested from under the skin and then retransplanted into the same patient for cosmetic or reconstructive purposes. The researchers report in a Scientific Reports study (May 21) that they successfully converted harvested white fat to brown fat in the lab for potential use as a therapy.
Other methods to increase brown fat include chronic cold exposure, which is uncomfortable for most people, and pharmaceuticals that can cause side effects by targeting other organs. “Our approach to increasing brown fat is potentially safer than drugs because the only thing going into patients is their own tissue, and it’s highly controllable because we can tune the amount of brown fat we inject,” says Sia. “The process is also so simple that it could be potentially performed using an automated system within a doctor’s office or clinic.”