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Don’t drop your diet yet, but scientists have discovered how CRISPR can burn fat

A personalized therapy for metabolic conditions that are linked to obesity could involve removing a small amount of a person’s fat, transforming it into an energy-burning variation using CRISPR gene-editing, and then re-implanting it into the body, according to researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

In tests involving mice, the implanted human fat cells helped lower sugar concentrations in the blood and decrease fat in the liver. When the mice were put on a high-fat diet, the ones that had been implanted with the human beige fat only gained half as much weight as those that had been implanted with regular human fat.

“Over the last decade, it has become clear that humans have ‘white’ adipose tissue that stores fat, but also a less abundant type of adipose tissue called ‘beige” or ‘brown,’ that can burn fat,” Michael Czech, a professor in molecular medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told Digital Trends. “Beige adipose tissue also secretes factors that are beneficial to the liver and muscles and can combat obesity-related Type 2 diabetes. These findings have led to the concept that enhancing the amount of brown adipose tissue in people may enhance their health and help to prevent diabetes.”

Czech said that the researchers’ work is exciting for a couple of reasons. The first is that the team has uncovered the specific gene, Nrip1, that prevents both human and mouse adipocytes from expressing these “beige” characteristics. The second is that, having discovered it, they’ve also found a way to delete it using CRISPR technology. Once the gene has been eliminated, white fat cells are converted into more “beige-like,” fat-burning condition.

It’s still early days for the project, but the research thus far is certainly promising. “Just like CAR-T technology in the cancer field, where blood cells from a patient can be expanded and modified genetically to fight tumors when injected back into the same patient, we envision using fat progenitor cells from patients with metabolic disorders … to alleviate disease,” Silvia Corvera, another leading professor in molecular medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who worked on the project, told Digital Trends.

A paper describing the work, titled “CRISPR-enhanced human adipocyte ‘browning’ as cell therapy for metabolic disease,” is available to read online.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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