Scientists Discover How to Create Anti-Obesity Brown Fat

Researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center have been researching ways to generate fat loss by stimulating brown fat production.

In a recent study (published in Nature), they have shown that a protein called BMP-7 can promote the development of brown fat. This is good news.

While the white fat cells that cover our doughy North American bodies are seen as the bane of our collective overweight existence, their brown fat cousins are superstars at burning calories.

What? Yep. You read that right. Fat that burns calories.

The primary function of brown fat is to generate body heat.

In contrast to white fat cells, which contain a single lipid (fat) droplet, brown adipocytes contain numerous smaller droplets and a much higher number of mitochondria.

But more importantly, the main role of brown fat is to burn calories by generating heat.

Sadly, brown fat cells largely disappear by adulthood in humans, but their precursors still remain in the body.

It is these brown fat precursors that the researchers were targeting.

Brown Fat Distribution Patterns - Adult / Baby
Brown Fat Distribution Patterns – Adult / Baby

The Science

A 2005 Joslin study discovered genes that control the creation of the precursor cells of brown fat.

A 2007 Joslin study found clusters of brown fat cells dispersed between bundles of muscle fibers in an obesity-resistant strain of mice.

This latest study identified BMP-7 as the protein capable of causing the formation and activation of brown fat cells.

Knowing this, the researchers injected the mice with BMP-7.


According to the researchers, delivery of BMP-7 into mice using adenovirus as a vector resulted in an increase in the growth of brown fat.

In one of the experiments, the mice that developed brown fat tissue gained less weight than those that did not.

In another experiment, mice that received injections of progenitor cells, (similar to stem cells) that had been pre-treated with BMP-7 also developed additional brown fat tissue.

The difference between Stem cells and Progenitor cells
The difference between Stem cells and Progenitor cells

So what does this all mean?

  • The researchers were trying to discover what controls the development of brown fat cells.
  • They already knew that BMPs are a group of proteins known to regulate the formation of a baby’s organs during their embryonic development.
  • Their current research indicates that BMP-7 (and perhaps other BMPs) can control the fate of brown and white cells.

Brown and white fat cells….Turn one on and the other off.

Turn on ‘calorie burning’ fat and turn off ‘calorie storing’ fat. Now that is exciting.

More info on scientific research into obesity – here.
More info into dietary intervention of obesity – here.
More info on exercise intervention of obesity – here.


  1. I’m suprised you think this is a good thing.

    Does this not give people yet another license to eat fatty foods and not exercise, so they can let their “fat burning fat” do the work?

    It upsets me that probably a LOT of money was spent on this research, and will probably be used as a scapegoat for obese people, when you and I know the better solution is proper diet and exercise.

    If the purpose of the study was to help sufferers of heart disease, or a fatty liver, then that’s one thing.

  2. I know it seems like a contradiction, and maybe it is, but I still get all ‘geeked up’ by this sort of creative science.

    What I like about this research is that it doesn’t give the “I can’t help being fat, it’s my genetics” crowd any ammo for their ‘poor little me’ defense.

    As adults, we ALL have very little active brown fat. It’ s not a genetic abnormality, it’s normal.

    What i also like is that it’s not a sledgehammer approach to fat loss. Most of the research up to this point has looked at substances than have a very broad effect upon the entire organism.

    This approach may operate more like a precision tactical missle rather than an atomic bomb.

    Then again, it may not pan out at all.

    BMP-7 has some effect on new bone production. I don’t think I want to guinea pig any treatment that may turn my fat cells into bone.

    Forget about cholesterol; that would really block an artery.

    BTW, any more news about your co-worker?

  3. I have to agree with McBloggenstein that we don’t need another excuse for people to eat whatever they want, not exercise and then expect to stay thin and healthy.

    Granted if this could be used to treat people with serious illness then it has benefit. I too am excited by new medical science but a lot of the human race has survived for a long time without reintroducing brown fat cells back into the body.

  4. Thanks for another great post!

    It’s interesting that for most of mankind’s existence, we’ve struggled to acquire sufficient calories. Now we’re trying to find ways to burn off excess calories.

    World population doubled between 1960 and 2000, yet we still have too many calories on hand.

    [I realize there’s a distribution problem in some parts of the world.]


  5. Didn’t they work out something similar with hormones and later find it actually increased obesity levels??

    We should be spending time and money on asking why people have reduced levels of brown far (if they do) and how to deal with the prevention rather then re-creating things to put back into the body!

    Any anyway, wouldn’t adding more brown-fat to a person increase their weight? unless we are talking minute amounts in which case, would it seriously be enough??

  6. I don’t think there is a lot of $$$ behind this stream of research…it sounds interesting, but I ain’t holding my breath on a brown-fat solution to obesity

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