UMMS expert: Increasing brown fat could promote weight loss

Physician-scientist Marcus Cooper explains how brown fat might help reduce diabetes and heart disease

By Bryan Goodchild and Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

February 05, 2014

UMass Medical School cardiologist and obesity researcher Marcus Cooper, MD, is hoping that a counter-intuitive approach to weight loss holds promise for reducing disease.

“In animals, if we increase the brown fat, it promotes weight loss, which protects against obesity and diabetes,” said Dr. Cooper, assistant professor of medicine. “It’s estimated in humans, that if we could just increase [brown fat] to 50 grams—about three to six times what we have now—we could promote weight loss in humans.”

Brown fat, which is actually brown in color, burns regular or white fat as fuel to generate heat. The discovery of brown fat in adult humans is relatively recent, but scientists have known about its existence in animals for a long time.

“For many years we thought that bears, hibernating animals, ground squirrels and so forth, had this kind of fat and that it really didn’t exist in humans, but it was later discovered to be in babies in the inter-scapular region, and more recently, it has been found in adult humans,” said Cooper. His lab is working to discover how to increase brown fat or increase its activity in humans.

To learn more about how brown fat works and how it might help reduce obesity, watch the video above.