White Fat to Brown Fat

Experts say that there are two kinds of body fat cells — “bad” ones and “good” ones. The bad ones store energy and the good ones burn energy. So wouldn’t it be great if researchers could figure out a way of changing bad fat cells into good ones?

That’s the aim of a new startup based at Purdue University, where Meng Deng, PhD, an assistant professor in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, has founded, in collaboration with Shihuan Kuang, PhD, a professor of animal sciences, a company called Adipo Therapeutics. The goal of the company is to develop “polymer-based nanotherapeutics” that act on fat tissue to help maintain weight loss. The techniques involve two rather arcane biological processes called “browning” and “Notch signaling.” Browning, or, more fully, “adipocyte browning,” is, as Dr. Deng explains it, “the conversion of energy-storing bad fat cells into energy-burning good fat cells.” Notch signaling is a process by which a body’s cell interacts with a neighboring cell, and, as Dr. Kuang discovered in his research, the inhibition of Notch signaling promotes browning.

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So far, the technology has been shown to be successful in preclinical studies and is being further developed to test on human cells. As Dr. Deng puts it, “Preclinical proof of the concept of this technology in inducing fat cell conversion and exerting anti-obesity effects has been successfully demonstrated in obesity models…. This method could ultimately provide an easier and safer treatment of obese patients.” He adds that the therapy, if fully developed, has great potential for diabetes patients. “Obesity,” he said, “has been a big contributor to Type 2 diabetes. What’s significant about our technology is that through local delivery of the nanoparticles into bad fat cells in obesity models, the glucose homeostasis is considerably approved.” Adipo Therapeutics is now seeking funding to support further research and testing. Dr. Deng has also expressed an interest in partnering with firms that are interested in advancing the new technology.

Want to learn about more approaches for losing weight? Read “Understanding Weight Management,” Strategies for Weight Management,” and “Five Myths of the Weight-Loss Plateau.”