Simple transplant turns "bad" fat into energy-burning brown fat

Researchers with Columbia University's engineering school have developed a "simple tissue-grafting approach" that converts white fat into brown fat, which burns large amounts of energy to generate heat. Unlike existing methods, which are uncomfortable or potentially full of side effects, the transplant procedure is described as simple enough to one day perform in a doctor's office.

Brown fat is a type of fat tissue capable of burning large amounts of energy; past research has indicated that by increasing the amount in a person's body, it may help manage weight and alleviate diabetic symptoms. In 2015, researchers with UC Berkeley found that exposure to cold may increase brown fat levels, which decrease over time due to the climate-controlled environments many people live in.

Many people have engaged in cold exposure experiences, such as ice baths or meditating outdoors in the winter time, in an effort to increase brown fat levels, but such methods are too uncomfortable for many people. Some pharmaceutical options exist that aim to increase brown fat levels, but often come with unwanted side effects.

The transplant method developed by Columbia researchers, however, may be safer and without cold exposure by simply using the subject's own tissue. The method works by harvesting white fat — which stores energy — and converting it into brown fat, which burns energy. Talking about the research is study lead Sam Sia, who said:

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. The process is also so simple that it could be potentially performed using an automated system within a doctor's office or clinic.

SOURCE: Columbia University