Transplanting "good" brown fat from embryos into adult mice cured their type 1 diabetes in a recent study by a team from Vanderbilt University in the US state of Tennessee.
Brown adipose tissue is well known to burn energy, upping the body's resting metabolism whereas its white counterpart stores energy, and thus an abundance of white adipose tissue makes it easy to gain weight.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas ceases to produce insulin, an important hormone that processes glucose when you eat sugary foods.
Springboarding from a previous mouse experiment in which they concluded brown fat transplants reestablish healthy blood sugar levels without the need for insulin injections, the same team worked with non-obese, diabetic mice.
Using the brown fat of mouse embryos of a gestational age between 15 and 18 days old, the team recorded the recipient mice's weight and collected blood samples taken not long after they had eaten every week after the transplant.
They compared these mice to a control group of non-diabetic mice and a group of diabetic mice left untreated.
Glucose tolerance tests performed before and after transplantation revealed that of the 30 mice that received the curative transplant, 16 made a full recovery, making for a 53 percent success rate.
Of the 16 that recovered, they achieved normal glucose levels within two weeks of their transplant procedures and remained healthy until they were euthanized between three and nine months later for post-mortem tissue examination.
"Once the success rates of this technique are optimized and suitable alternatives to embryonic tissue are established, insulin-independent reversal of diabetes using adipose tissue can become a realistic option," write the researchers in their paper, published in the journal Endocrinology And Metabolism.
Mounting evidence indicates that brown fat could be a key weapon in the fight against diabetes.
An early sign arrived last year, when a US team studied 12 healthy men who had varying proportions of brown fat and found that those with the most had better blood sugar control and higher insulin sensitivity.
It was a secondary finding in the study, published in Diabetes, whose original aim was to build on research suggesting white fat cells can be converted to brown by means of exposure to mild cold.
"Of even greater clinical significance may be the finding that brown fat can help the body regulate blood sugar more effectively," said Labros Sidossis of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "This is great news for people with insulin resistance and diabetes and suggests that brown fat may prove to be an important anti-diabetic tissue."