Scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center have been able to use simple, non-toxic chemical injections to add and remove fat in targeted areas on the bodies of laboratory animals. They say the discovery, published in Nature Medicine, could revolutionize human cosmetic surgery and the treatment of diseases associated with human obesity.
The researchers say they have found a mechanism by which stress activates weight gain in mice, and they say this pathway − which they were able to manipulate − may explain why people who are chronically stressed gain more weight than they should based on the calories they consume.
The mechanism involves two chemical players − a neurotransmitter and the receptor which activates in two types of cells in the fat tissue: endothelial cells lining blood vessels and fat cells themselves. In order to add fat selectively to the mice they tested, researchers injected the neurotransmitter into a specific area.
"We couldn't believe such fat remodeling was possible, but the numerous different experiments conducted over four years demonstrated that it is, at least in mice; recent pilot data also suggest that a similar mechanism exist in monkeys as well," said researcher Zofia Zukowska. "We are hopeful that these findings might eventually lead to control of metabolic syndrome, which is a huge health issue for many Americans."
The findings should provide some comfort to stressed individuals who blame themselves for a weight gain that seems outsized given the food they eat, added co-researcher Lydia Kuo. "This is the first study to show that stress has a direct effect on fat accumulation, body weight and metabolism. In humans, this kind of stress-mediated fat gain may have nothing to do with the brain, and is actually just a physiological response of their fat tissue," she noted.
Perhaps the most rapid clinical application of the findings will be in both cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. The ability to add fat as a graft would be useful for facial rejuvenation, breast surgery, buttock and lip enhancement, and facial reconstruction. Importantly, the injections tested in the study make fat grafts predictable, inexpensive, biocompatible and permanent. The researchers stress, however, that more research is needed to find out how the animal findings translate in humans.
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Source: Georgetown University Medical Center