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The Corvera Lab is Examining How Different Body Fat Plays a Role in Type 2 Diabetes

Date Posted: October 17, 2020

Studying human fat tissue as a treatment for diabetes

Different body fat plays a role in type 2 diabetes

Scientists understand that people who accumulate fat around their belly are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who have it in the lower body.  The laboratory of Silvia Corvera, MD, is investigating how the development and function of fat cells differ in people with and without diabetes. The findings may help explain what causes diabetes and related conditions including fatty liver and cardiovascular disease.

“We take the progenitor cells that make adipose, or fat tissue, from patients and, using the techniques we have developed, implant them in ‘humanized’ mice, where they make new fat tissue,” said Dr. Corvera, the Endowed Chair in Diabetes Research and professor of molecular medicine. “We are looking for the biological differences in the development of fat tissue in two parts of the body, and their impact on disease state.”

They are learning if the newly formed fat is different depending on where in the body the cells came from, or whether they came from patients with or without diabetes.

The Corvera lab uses small amounts of human fat from different locations in the body to study cells called mesenchymal progenitors, which become fat cells. They extract small amounts of abdominal fat and gluteal fat from patients with type 2 diabetes and controls without the disease.

Understanding the differences in genes expressed in mesenchymal progenitors from abdominal fat or gluteal fat and how they become different types of fat cells will help elucidate how different fat depots form, and if they vary between people with and without type 2 diabetes. It will also help explain why lower body fat is beneficial, and maybe recapitulate these beneficial effects in ways that can improve health.

“We are looking for why those differences exist, if they were there from the beginning and if they are influenced by environment,” said Corvera. “We can study the cells as they develop to see how they form tissues and how that tissue affects the humanized mouse metabolism.”

In related research, the discovery of “beige” or “brite” fat has raised the possibility of new approaches to treating type 2 diabetes that harness beige fat’s ability to burn energy and accelerate metabolism. The Corvera lab has developed a method to generate the creation of beige fat cells in mice using precursor cells present in white fat from humans. When these cells were implanted in mice with diabetes, their metabolism improved.

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