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LONDON -- British scientists have identified a protein that could enhance the burning of fat, providing an "ideal mechanism" for development of new therapies to fight obesity.
Scientists at University of Cambridge reported in the latest issue of the journal Cell that the protein BMP8B acts on a specific metabolic system to regulate brown fat.
Fat tissues could be divided into white fat and brown fat. The former functions primarily to store up fat, and the latter burns fat to generate heat in a process known as thermogenesis.
Experiments showed that when mice lacked the protein BMP8B they found it more difficult to maintain their normal body temperature. They also became much more obese than normal mice.
In contrast, when BMP8B was administrated to the mice, their brown fat cells burned more fat and the mice lost weight.
"Other proteins made by the body can enhance heat production in brown fat, such as thyroid hormone but often these proteins have important effects in other organs too. Therefore they are not good targets for developing new weight loss treatments," said the lead author Andrew Whittle at Cambridge.
"However, BMP8B seems to be very specific for regulating the heat production activity of brown fat, making it a more ideal mechanism for new therapies."
One could be skeptical that techniques to increase metabolic rate might just be compensated by the body trying to make you want to eat more, to fuel this increased metabolism. But the researchers said their findings showed that treating mice with BMP8B did not have this effect. It simply made them lose weight by burning more fat in the brown adipose tissue.
The researchers noted that there are differences between mice and humans, and from a therapeutic perspective this work is preliminary. Validation will be necessary to see if manipulating BMP8B would be safe and effective in humans.