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Not all fat’s the same: protecting against Type 2 diabetes

Project summary

Small molecule paracrine and endocrine signalling during the browning of white fat

Dr Roberts is focusing on fat cells, with different types responsible for storing and burning fat. He hopes to find specific signals from ‘good’ beige fat cells, to see if they can improve fat metabolism and protect the body from Type 2 diabetes. If successful, this research could inform the development of new protective Type 2 diabetes treatments.

Background to research

Our bodies store excess fat inside special cells, particularly inside white fat cells (that accumulate to form white adipose tissue, or WAT). But not all fat cells are the same; brown fat cells (brown adipose tissue, BAT) breaks down stored fat to generate heat, while beige fat cells can switch between the two, either storing or burning fat. Beige fat cells exist because white fat cells start behaving like brown ones, a process known as “browning”. It’s thought that beige fat cells can have protective properties against Type 2 diabetes, and not just because the cells are burning fat. Early experiments suggest that the cells may be sending out signals that change the way different organs use fat and glucose. We don’t yet know what these signals could be, or what impact they’re having on fat tissue and organs around the body.

Research aims

Dr Roberts aims to determine whether this “browning” process results in the new beige fat cells sending signals out into the blood, and if so, exactly what those signals are. He also plans to investigate whether those signals can tell other white fat cells nearby to turn into brown cells as well, and whether the beige fat cells can regulate the metabolism of other organs by sending signals through the blood stream.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

By understanding the role of beige fat cells in more detail, this research hopes to identify specific ‘protective’ signals that they send out. These signals could be used to develop new therapies to protect against the onset of Type 2 diabetes in the future.

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