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Rodent of the week: Baby fat cells in mice

September 26, 2008 |  9:00 am

Scientists can do a lot with mice. They can, for example, engineer them so that their stem cells glow green. Why would anyone do that, you ask? Well, in the case of mice in a laboratory at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, it was to watch baby fat cells as they grew into fully developed fat cells.

Rodent_of_the_weekThey knew that immature fat cells hang back and wait for excess calories, growing into adult fat cell monsters that make it so easy to pack on extra pounds, so hard to lose them.

But scientists didn't know exactly where those cells were hiding. "Identifying the progenitor cells and finding where they live gives us an exciting therapeutic opportunity," says Dr. Jonathan Graff, senior author of the study, which appears in the online edition of the journal Science. Turns out, the cells are embedded within blood vessel walls that run through fatty tissue.

These cells do more than just grab excess calories and store them as fat. When people take in more calories than they burn off, these cells procreate, producing more and more fat cells. Finding where the fat-hungry cells hang out in mice eventually could help to develop therapies in humans to reduce obesity.

Or scientists might develop ways to use the immature fat cells to benefit people in other ways. For example, progenitor cells from a fatty thigh or belly might be moved to a soldier's wounds or a woman's breast cancer scar to help fill out and heal.

-- Susan Brink

Photo Credit: Advanced Cell Technology Inc.