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The Corvera Lab Sheds Light on Beige Fat as a Potential Therapy for Type 2 Diabetes

Their data published in Nature Medicine explains how beige fat grows in the body and helps to regulate metabolism

By: UMass Chan Medical School Communications

Beige Fat: a potential therapy for people with Type 2 diabetes


While the existence of beige fat in humans was discovered in the 1990s, there has been little understanding about where it originates and how it affects metabolism and glucose tolerance.

Researchers at the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence continue to shed light on the benefits of beige fat. A newly published study by Silvia Corvera, MD, the Endowed Chair in Diabetes Research and professor of molecular medicine, every bit of our own fat has the ability to generate beige fat, which could potentially be deployed within ourselves to treat diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Corvera's paper in Nature Medicine helps to explain how beige fat is grown in the body and how it helps to regulate our metabolism.

“This work increases our knowledge and opens the possibility of a place to look for new therapeutics that didn’t exist before,” said Dr. Corvera. “It not only tells us what is happening in our body and why our metabolism works the way it does, but we can now study these cells and see what they produce and coax them to grow. It’s a brand new platform to discover new medications for weight and metabolic disease.”

The process began when scientists in Corvera’s lab asked how and where fat cells originate. Based on previous research, they knew that brown fat is highly vascular and that where there's fat there are also blood vessels. Researchers in Corvera’s lab were able to grow blood vessels from tiny pieces of human fat in test tubes and observed that both white fat cells and brown-like fat cells (beige fat) were formed on the vessel’s branches. Those findings showed that cells derived from human capillary networks gave rise to beige fat cells. It further showed that beige cells can be activated in vitro.

“This means that probably every piece of our fat has the ability to make these beige cells,” added Dr. Corvera. “We could, in theory, trigger these thermogenic cells to form in different parts of the body and that would presumably help with weight loss, which could improve metabolism, diabetes or cardiovascular conditions.”

To test that theory, in part, researchers inserted beige fat cells into humanized mouse models and were able to determine that the animals’ metabolism improved. "It demonstrated directly for the first time that beige fat cells are beneficial," said Dr. Corvera. "The finding that human beige adipocytes enhance glucose homeostasis provides a clear rationale for their potential therapeutic use.”  

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