UCSF: Scientists Discover How to Make Ordinary Fat Cells Burn Calories

UCSF study finds that switching off a protein in white fat cells could open the door to developing a new class of weight-loss drugs.

Until now, researchers believed creating beige fat might require starting from stem cells. The new study published July 1 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, showed that ordinary white fat cells can be converted into beige fat simply by limiting production of a protein.

Scientists knew that stimulating a related receptor, Adrb3, caused mice to lose weight. But human trials of drugs that act on this receptor have had disappointing results.

A different drug targeting the Adrb1 receptor in humans is more likely to work, according to Feldman, and it could have significant advantages over the new, injectable weight-loss drugs that are aimed at suppressing appetite and blood sugar.

It might avoid side effects like nausea because its activity would be limited to fat deposits, rather than affecting the brain. And the effects would be long lasting, because fat cells are relatively long-lived.

“We’re certainly not at the finish line, but we’re close enough that you can clearly see how these discoveries could have a big impact on treating obesity,” he said.