UT Southwestern Diabetes Researchers Show Gene Editing Can Turn Fat Storage Cells Into Energy Burning Fat Cells: Newsroom

Lavanya Vishvanath, Senior Research Associate and Rana Gupta, Ph.D. in the Research Lab.

DALLAS – October 6, 2021 – A team of researchers at the Touchstone Diabetes Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center have successfully used CRISPR gene editing to transform fat cells normally used for storage into cells that burn for energy.

Photo by Rana Gupta, Ph.D.

Rana Gupta, Ph.D.

“It’s like flipping a switch. We have removed the ‘brake’ on the energy-burning pathway in fat cells by creating a mutation that disrupts the interaction between a single pair of proteins, ”said the study leader. Rana Gupta, Ph.D., associate professor of internal medicine. “Our research shows that releasing this brake in fat cells can potentially help make existing diabetes medications much more effective.”

Research at UT Southwestern, ranked as one of 25 best hospitals for the care of diabetes and endocrinology, is published in Genes and development and supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“There is considerable interest in producing these energy-burning fat cells as a treatment for metabolic diseases such as diabetes,” said Dr Gupta, who called obesity “the pandemic before the pandemic.” “.

There are two main types of fat cells in people: white blood cells that serve as an energy storage site and increase in number and size in obese people, and energy-burning brown and beige cells that burn energy. excess energy to produce heat and increase energy expenditure. . The beneficial brown fat cells also protect against the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Obese people have significantly fewer brown and beige fat cells, explained Dr. Gupta.

Photo of an image of adipose tissue

Image of adipose tissue (commonly known as fat) after exposure to cold. Researchers are finding ways to turn fat cells that normally focus on storage into energy-burning cells.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prevalence of obesity in the United States rose from 30.5% to 42.4% from 1999 to 2018, with a large portion of that population subsequently developing diabetes. More than 30% of Americans are now diagnosed with diabetes, and the American Diabetes Association estimates that 18% of the country is either undiagnosed or has prediabetes. The price to pay is enormous, as the care of diagnosed diabetes currently costs $ 327 billion per year, which is about $ 1 in $ 7 spent on health care across the country.

Dr Gupta has been studying fat cells and metabolic diseases since 2006. He joined UT Southwestern faculty in 2012, where his laboratory uses modern approaches in molecular genetics and molecular / cell biology to explore various aspects of adipocyte (fat cell) development.

The distribution and dysfunction of fat cells are intimately linked to obesity and diseases associated with obesity such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The growing obesity epidemic and the rising costs associated with treating metabolic diseases have heightened the urgency to understand all aspects of fat tissue biology, including how fat cells are formed throughout the body, has said Dr Gupta.

This study is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and builds on a previous study. to study published in 2016 in Cell metabolism by Dr Gupta and his team.

The other UTSW researchers involved are: Mengle Shao, Qianbin Zhang, Ashley Truong, Bo Shan, Lavanya Vishvanath and Lin Li.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has been awarded six Nobel Prizes and includes 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 members of the National Academy of Medicine and 14 researchers of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The full-time faculty of over 2,800 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advancements and is committed to rapidly translating science-driven research into new clinical treatments. Doctors at UT Southwestern provide care in approximately 80 specialties to more than 117,000 inpatients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases and supervise nearly 3 million outpatient visits per year.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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