A team of scientists has identified how brown fat cells are produced - findings that could play a key role in the fight against obesity.
Scientists have moved a step closer to understanding how brown fat cells can be harnessed to burn excess energy and so combat the growing problem of obesity.
Unlike white fat cells that, generally speaking, do little more than store fat, brown fat cells help to keep the human body warm by burning excess energy at a high rate.
Up until now, health researchers had struggled to pinpoint the presence of brown fat cells on a molecular level, hindering efforts to make use of this natural defence against obesity.
However, a team from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have deciphered how such cells are formed, with their research indicating that being exposed to the cold can lead the body to start generating them.
Writing up the findings in the journal Nature Medicine, study leader Dr Philip Scherer explained that tests carried out on mice found that exposing the animals to the cold helped to drive the generation of healthy fat cells.
"The major finding is that the cold-induced adaptation and appearance of brown fat cells involves the generation of completely new cells rather than a retooling of pre-existing white fat cells into brown fat cells in response to the cold," he added.
It is now hoped that further work will help scientists find a way of translating these findings into clinical use, with the active generation of brown fat cells seen as an effective means of fighting back against the current obesity epidemic.
According to NHS figures, the BMI of the average Briton has continued to increase over the past 20 years, with the heaviest people putting on excess weight at the fastest rate.
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