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Stem cell structure

Changing stem cell structure could fight obesity

By genetically restricting this cilia elongation in stem cells the researchers were able to stop the formation of new fat cells.

Scientists have found that reducing the size of tiny hair like structures on stem cells stops them turning into fat – a discovery it is hoped could be used to develop a way of preventing obesity. The research, conducted at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), found that a slight regulation in the length of primary cilia, small hair-like projections found on most cells, prevented the production of fat cells from human stem cells taken from adult bone marrow.

“This research points towards a new type of treatment known as ‘cilia-therapy’ where manipulation of primary cilia may be used in future to treat a growing range of conditions including obesity, cancer, inflammation and arthritis,” said Professor Martin Knight, a bioengineer and lead author of the study, ‘Adipogenic differentiation of hMSCs is mediated by recruitment of IGF-1R onto the primary cilium associated with elongation’, published in Stem Cell Journal.

Part of the process by which calories are turned into fat involves adipogenesis, the differentiation of stem cells into fat cells. The researchers showed that during this process of adipogenesis, the length of primary cilia increases associated with movement of specific proteins onto the cilia. Furthermore, by genetically restricting this cilia elongation in stem cells the researchers were able to stop the formation of new fat cells.

“This is the first time that it has been shown that subtle changes in primary cilia structure can influence the differentiation of stem cell into fat,” said Melis Dalbay, co-author of the research from the School of Engineering and Materials Science at QMUL. “Since primary cilia length can be influenced by various factors including pharmaceuticals, inflammation and even mechanical forces, this study provides new insight into the regulation of fat cell formation and obesity.”

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