Health Tips: Newly Isolated “Beige Fat” Cells Could Help Fight Obesity

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have isolated a new type of energy-burning fat cell in adult humans, which they say may have therapeutic potential for treating obesity.

Called “beige fat,” the cells are found in scattered pea-sized deposits beneath the skin near the collarbone and along the spine in adult humans. Because this type of fat can burn off calories—rather than store them, as “white fat” cells do—beige fat cells might spawn new therapies for obesity and diabetes, according to researchers led by Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, of Dana-Farber.

The study found that beige fat is genetically distinct from “brown fat,” which also burns calories to generate heat. Even in small amounts, brown and beige fat can burn large amounts of calories.

“The therapeutic potential of both kinds of brown fat cells is clear,” the authors write in an article found in the journal Cell, “as genetic manipulations in mice that create more brown or beige fat have strong anti-obesity and anti-diabetic actions.” Researchers are already seeking ways to exploit human brown fat for human benefits.