September 29, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Harvard Predicts Fat Burning Stem Cell Pill To Replace Exercise

Moisan et al, brown fat pathways.
Moisan et al, brown fat pathways.

A hot topic in biomedical sciences is converting white “bad” fat into brown “good” fat.

The latter type of adipose is viewed more positively because it seems to be associated with a relatively metabolically more active, leaner state.

Could we somehow convert white adipose to brown adipose and in so doing have a beneficial effect on health?

Researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute just came out with some new research on potential stem cell-related approaches to the much-vaunted conversion of white-to-brown fat.

The paper was posted yesterday in the excellent journal Nature Cell Biology from a team led by Dr. Chad Cowan and is entitled: White-to-brown metabolic conversion of human adipocytes by JAK inhibition.

The authors conducted an elegant screen (see Figure 1a above) to look for molecules that could shift the fate of adipose tissue produced from stem cells toward brown adipose. They found so-called JAK kinase inhibitors could do the trick in human cultured cells.

This is heady stuff.

The Harvard Gazette talks about it in a piece entitled “A Pill to Shed Fat?”:

Cowan’s group has found two small molecules that convert fat stem cells, which normally would produce white fat, into brown-like fat cells. These brown-like fat cells burn excess energy and thereby reduce the size and numbers of white fat cells.

I find this paper very exciting, but I wonder if it is a bit too exciting if you know what I mean. For example, take a look at this statement that is bouncing around in the mainstream media about this fat finding:

“It’s the first step toward a pill that can replace the treadmill,” said co-author Chad Cowan, associate professor in Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology unit.

A pill coming soon to not just potentially make you healthier by changing your fat, but also to replace exercise?

OK, so that’s a clever, rhyming soundbite with “pill” and “treadmill”, but did it go too far?

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