Bad fat turned good The scientific community used to believe that brown and white fat cells in any living organism could not be converted from one kind to the other, until a Swiss scientific team showed that they actually can be converted from one type to the other.
Christian Wolfrum, from ETH Zurich, used mice in order to experiment with a new idea to treat obesity. They proved that white fat cells, the cells that store energy in our bodies, can be converted to brown fat cells, the type of fat cell that burns energy instead of storing it.
It is a well known fact that both mice and humans form brown fat cells in their white fat to resist cold temperatures by burning some of the energy that was stored in the white fat cells. These cells are called brown-in-white (“brite”) are found in smaller numbers at warmer temperatures. What these scientists wanted to demonstrate was if these brite cells that are formed by an exposure to cold temperatures were previously white fat cells. In order to expose that this is in fact the case, they genetically engineered mice that they could put a label in some of their white fat cells. They exposed the mice to cold temperatures, and they found that some of these white fat cells turned into brite fat cells. These cells were converted back to white fat cells after the mice were exposed to warmer temperatures. Wolfrum el al. were successful in proving that, in mice, white fat cells can transform into brite cells, and brite cells can transform into white fat cells. This could be true not only for mice but for humans too, since human beings are like mice in that both have the same kind of cells. This transformation from white fat cell to brown fat cell due to exposure to colder temperatures probably takes place in humans too.
Now that they know that white fat cells can be converted to brite cells, Wolfrum et al. are looking for nutritional or pharmaceutical ways to make this change occur in people obesity patients. Wolfrum says that if this is a revolutionary way of looking for a solution for obesity. He says that the treatments for obesity that we currently have only focus on reducing the amount of calories that people are consuming, and that the pharmacological treatments aimed to treat obesity are inefficient and are the cause of many side effects. This new kind of treatment that he proposes, however, would aim to treat obesity through the formation of brite cells to burn calories.