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Brown Fat Located with MRIs?

Last updated July 8, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

This animation describes insulin resistance, an underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. It explains the roles of glucose and the hormone insulin in our body. Symptoms of diabetes are reviewed and various health complications that type 2 diabetes can lead to if left untreated.


Research in recent years have concluded that all fat are not the same. Most of us know the about the stubborn fat around our waists that is difficult to get rid of even with proper dieting and exercise. This fat is called white adipose tissue or “white fat”. When we consume too many calories, the body converts them into an energy reserve in the form of white fat, leading to weight gain. There is another type of fat many people are not aware of.

Brown adipose tissue (BAT), commonly referred to as brown fat, is also found in our bodies to generate body heat by using energy to burn calories, therefore helping with weight maintenance. It has been long thought that brown fat only exists in babies and children until recently when they found that BAT is found in adults as well.

With these discoveries, scientists have been trying to learn more about brown fat in hopes for new therapeutic strategies for obesity and diabetes. DoveMed released a report on a study where scientists used mice to reactivate the activity of brown fat.

Researchers from the Warwick Medical School and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust believe that there is potential to create ways of activating brown fat to boost energy expenditure and promote weight loss; however, more data is needed.

The research team uses a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method to see if it could produce a picture with a better resolution of brown fat in a living adult.

The MRI method was used on a 25-year-old female with a hyperparathyroidism-jaw tumor syndrome as she underwent surgical removal of one or more parathyroid glands.

The research team found that the MRI was able to identify the presence of brown fat in the human body, regardless of the activity. This gives a thorough understanding as to where brown fat can be found in adults.

Dr. Thomas Barber, of the Department of Metabolic and Vascular Health at Warwick Medical School says, “The MRI allows us to distinguish between the brown fat, and the more well-known white fat that people associate with weight gain, due to the different water-to-fat ratio of the two tissue types. We can use the scans to highlight what we term 'regions of interest' that can help us to build a picture of where the brown fat is located.”

Dr. Thomas and his team hope to use the MRI as a way to accurately and reliably quantify the amount of brown fat in humans.

"The clinical utility of this technique will be to assess efficacy of any future novel therapy that acts to augment brown fat quantity. This technique will also be useful though to gain further insight into human brown adipose tissue. For example, how many of us actually have brown fat."

Reference:

Identification of Brown Adipose Tissue Using MR Imaging in a Human Adult With Histological and Immunohistochemical Confirmation

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 23, 2014
Last updated: July 8, 2015