Innovative Crowdsourcing Project to Fund Research on “Brown Fat Cells”

Innovative Crowdsourcing Project to Fund Research on “Brown Fat Cells”

Scientists at The University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom are turning to the public to fund new research on brown fat cells in an innovative crowdsourcing approach, according to a University press release. The goal of the team is to study the body’s own defenses against fat malignancies in order to develop treatments for obesity and diabetes.

Obesity is a societal health concern with growing proportions. As a result, the researchers launched a crowdfunding platform for academic and scientific research for which the society can contribute via financial support. This is the first U.K. project to be featured in Experiment, an online platform for discovering, funding, and sharing science.

The project will be led by Dr. James Law and Professor Michael Symonds, both from the Early Life Research Unit at the University’s School of Medicine. The study aims to trigger specialist ‘brown fat’ cells (human cells that burn fat and sugar), stabilize blood sugars, and decrease obesity and obesity-related diseases like diabetes.

“People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes both have problems controlling their blood sugar levels without medication, often needing multiple injections a day,” explained Dr. Law. “Type 1 diabetes is due to a lack of insulin production whereas type 2 diabetes is due to insulin resistance and is often associated with obesity. In both cases, an improvement in blood sugar control could improve the person’s quality of life by needing to inject less insulin and reducing the effects from high blood sugars, which include blindness, heart disease, stroke and amputation.”

“Brown fat works in a different way to other fat in your body and produces heat by burning sugar and fat, often in response to cold. Increasing its activity improves blood sugar control as well as improving blood lipid levels and the extra calories burnt help with weight loss.” further clarified Dr. Law. He also explained how he and his colleagues will attempt to trigger brown fat cells activity, “We will be using stem cells from volunteers to develop a laboratory model of brown fat cells that can be used to rapidly screen potential treatments. By creating a model that behaves more like the cells do in your body, results will be able to be translated to human trials more quickly, bringing forward treatment discovery.”

Obesity is often associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes as well as other health problems. Surgery still has a high associated risk, and other methods to keep obesity at bay have poor success rates in the long run. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are the only lifestyle choices known to keep you healthy, but require a lot of self-discipline to maintain.

Brown fat provides a new approach to burn energy in an effective way, at the same time that improves blood sugar control. Today, there are a few drugs known to trigger brown fat cells but they have unwanted side effects, like accelerating the heart rate and increasing the body’s temperature. This research project intends to allow drug compounds to be fully tested in order to improve the results’ accuracy and bring forward innovative treatments. The study is meant to start in the beginning of 2016 and the team is aiming to raise $4,995 – around £3,310 – covering the costs of taking in volunteers, equipment and chemicals needed to perform cell tests in the laboratory.

“This funding will give us the opportunity to make a start on this novel project and get us the first results needed to show its promise to identify new treatments. With further funding we would aim to take biopsies from a larger number of volunteers and buy a specialist camera to measure how much heat the cells produce in real-time,” concluded Dr. Law.

For more information about the project and how to contribute (until next Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015), please visit the link.

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