Researchers from all over the world will meet at Stockholm University this weekend, July 10 and 11, to discuss for the first time the connection in adult humans between brown fat and the risk of becoming obese.
" It's quite amazing to realize that only three years ago a meeting with the title "Brown adipose tissue and human obesity" would have been impossible. This is because it was only then that it was unequivocally recognized that also adult humans can possess the fat-combusting brown adipose tissue", explain the local organizers Professors Barbara Cannon and Jan Nedergaard of the Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University.
During the past three years, the researchers have seen a fantastic change in the attitude towards the importance of brown adipose tissue. "Until recently, brown adipose tissue was only really seen as a somewhat modified form of white adipose tissue - but now we know that it is something quite special, rather a sort of modified muscle cell. And it is just because of the similarities with muscle cells that brown fat cells can combust what we eat so effectively - and thus ensure that the energy in our food is converted to heat rather than being stored as regular fat", says Jan Nedergaard. The researchers also know now that in experimental animals it is sufficient to remove the ability of brown fat to combust food for these animals to become obese. "It's therefore possible now for the first time to imagine that the fact that most people become fatter as they become older (middle-age spread) can be the result of a successive loss of our brown fat as we age", says Barbara Cannon. During the meeting, which has attracted 150 participants from all over the world, a number of researchers will present results that clearly point to a connection between proneness among adult persons to develop obesity and a lack of active brown adipose tissue. According to the researchers, it is a general relationship because similar results have been obtained irrespective of whether Europeans, Japanese or Americans have been studied. With this connection established, those presentations that demonstrate how brown adipose tissue can be induced to grow and be activated will not only be of scientific but also of practical interest. "To have the possibility to prevent the loss of brown fat with age would probably be of considerable significance for counteracting the serious diseases that are a consequence of obesity", says Jan Nedergaard. The brown adipose tissue meeting is being held as a pre-congress meeting to the International Congress on Obesity that is being held in Stockholm next week and there the problems with obesity itself will be in focus. "Here at the pre-congress meeting, we are concentrating instead on the possibility to combust the fat before it leads to problems", concludes Barbara Cannon.