Novel approach to studying calorie-burning fat tissue could help counteract obesity

Research, published in Cell Metabolism, has revealed a new way to study brown fat stores in the body. This novel approach could give us a better understanding of calorie-burning tissues and contribute to efforts to prevent weight gain and obesity.

PET/CT scan showing brown adipose tissue

A research team at CVS has been studying brown fat, the fat tissue in the body that burns energy and keeps us warm when we get cold. While previous research on brown fat has been limited to information gained by the use of PET/CT scans, Edinburgh researchers have developed a technique called microdialysis to better study the chemical factors involved in brown fat activity and heat generation. This process involves inserting a catheter into an area of brown fat, flushing it with fluids, and then analysing the tissue's chemical makeup. 

The research team used PET/CT scans to correctly insert the catheters and conduct microdialysis on the brown fat of six healthy men, as lean subjects tend to have more brown fat. Subjects were exposed to both warm and cold conditions, to study the activity of brown fat at different temperatures. Under cold conditions, brown fat generates heat from its own energy stores and other substances. Surprisingly, brown fat was also found to be active under warm conditions, when the body does not need to produce its own heat. This result has not been seen before.

Gaining a better understanding of the behaviour of brown fat could lead us to new ways of triggering or activating this tissue to burn more energy, improving metabolic health and contributing to weight loss.

Dr. Roland Stimson
UoE/BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Science

Related Links

Original paper

Roland Stimson