White fat is a form of body fat that stores calories as an energy reserve while also providing insulation for the body. However, an excess buildup of white fat may lead to obesity and associated health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, particularly when it accumulates around the abdominal area.
Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue, on the other hand, is often referred to as the “good” body fat, as it burns calories to generate heat. As such, researchers have been searching for ways to increase brown fat in the body and reduce white fat, as a means of treating obesity and related conditions.
In previous research, Professor Meng Deng from Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN and his team found a way of potentially converting white fat into brown fat, and recently reported their results in the journal Molecular Therapy.
In detail, the team found that blocking the activity of a gene called Notch1 in white fat cells increases the expression of uncoupling protein 1 (Ucp1) – which is a protein that promotes fat burning – and leads to the browning of white fat.
Their latest study builds on this finding; the team has discovered a way to deliver a Notch-signaling inhibitor directly to white fat and turn it into brown fat.
The drug used in this study is an anticonvulsant called dibenzazepine, and on injecting the nanoparticle-drug combination into the white fat of mice, the researchers found that the nanoparticles were easily mopped up by white fat cells.
“Once those engineered particles are inside the fat cells, they can slowly release the drug in the cells, potentially limiting the off-target interactions in other tissue in the body and reducing the frequency of dosing,” adds Prof. Deng.
A new treatment for belly fat and obesity?
The team found that weekly injections of the drug to a specific area of white fat improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in mice with diet-induced obesity.
The results may well be a lead for new targeted treatment for belly fat and obesity.
“Our studies not only substantiate that the local browning induced by the Notch inhibition in WAT [white adipose tissue] improved energy homeostasis, but also offer new avenues to develop a potential therapeutic strategy for [the] clinical treatment of obesity and its associated metabolic syndrome.”