Phat Cells

The fat cells in our bodies tend to get a bad rap. A study published this week in Nature balances that stereotype. Fat cells (adipocyctes) play a vital role in our biological mechanisms.

Bone marrow contains a large amount of fat cells. Previously they were thought to serve passively as padding. In contrast, researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston discovered that fat cells are essential in regulating hematopoietic stem cell function (the formation of blood and blood cells in our bodies.)

The study conclusively defines adipocytes as the negative regulators of blood cell production (hematopoiesis). As fat-cell content in bone marrow increases, blood progenitor cells decrease. This slows the production of blood formation. The discovery correlates the increase in bone-marrow fat and decrease in blood production as we age.

The researchers are now focusing on using adipocyte-targeting compounds, currently being developed as obesity treatments, in bone marrow. By reducing adipocytes, these compounds may one day be used to accelerate blood formation in patients who have undergone bone marrow transplants.

The fat cells in our bone marrow help ensure proper blood formation. That fat is phat (great, wonderful, terrific).

—Tom DeSanto
Image: Grey's Anatomy illustration of bone marrow from Wikipedia

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