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Scientists developed new technique to study brown fat – this may lead to new obesity therapies

Posted May 26, 2018

The best therapy against obesity is exercising and dieting. However, people need an easier way, because our new way of living supports everything that‘s quick and effortless. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have just developed a technique called microdialysis, which can be used to measure how brown fat generates heat in people, which burns energy.

Eating woman. Image credit:, CC0 Public Domain

Becoming thinner could be condensed into consuming less calories than you burn. It is as simple as that, but humans burn calories in a huge variety of ways. For example, we have deep inside the body, which keeps us warm. Of course, producing heat requires energy and thus brown fat is consuming calories. Tapping into this process could help cure the obesity, but previous methods of analysing brown fat using a medical imaging technique called PET/CT proved to be unsuccessful. Now scientists developed a technique called microdialysis, which relies on inserting a small tube into an area of brown fat in the body and flushing it with fluid to collect a snapshot of the tissues’ chemical make-up.

PET/CT is still needed to guide the tube accurately as was done with six volunteers. Scientists found that in colder conditions brown fat uses its own resources and other sources of energy to generate heat. But the tissue is also active when the temperature is warm – this has not been observed before. Scientists for now are not sure why that is, but they are hoping that microdialysis will allow researching chemical process in the brown fat more accurately. Interestingly, brown fat is easier to find in babies.

People store energy as white fat – the brown fat can mostly be found in the neck and upper back regions. Image credit: Mallinaltzin via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Babies have a considerable amount of brown fat keeping them warm, but adults can have this kind of tissue too. It is not to be mixed with white fat, which is right under your skin and around internal organs, storing energy if you consume more than you burn. Brown fat in adults usually can be found in the neck and upper back region and leaner people have more of it. It is actually not surprising, because white fat works as insulation – less insulation, more heat production is required. Dr Roland Stimson, one of the authors of the study, said: “Understanding how brown fat is activated could reveal potential targets for therapies that boost its energy-burning power, which could help with weight loss”.

And that is a major goal. Another recently presented study revealed that almost a forth of world’s population by 2045 is going to be obese. We need to change our lifestyles and how we are raising children, but a more scientific outlook is also needed. Maybe the research of brown fat will lead to a very effective and life-saving therapy.


Source: The University of Edinburgh

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