Obesity Research

MPS device sitting on a countertop

To perform blue light-based studies, The Brown Laboratory manufactured a 96-well microplate photo irradiation system configured with blue LEDs (466nm) that is powered using an AC power supply and software that can be programmed to control the blue light pulse times, light intensity and specific wells to be illuminated. Cells grown in black walled culture plates are placed on top of the microplate photo irradiation system and pulsed with blue light in a 5% CO2 cell culture incubator set at 37C.

Shedding Blue Light on Addressing Therapies for Obesity-Related Disorders

Aaron Brown, PhD

Aaron Brown, PhD

Adipose tissue, often referred to as body fat, plays a pivotal role in our health. Unlike excess white adipose tissue, which is strongly associated with the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and negative cardiovascular outcomes, brown adipose tissue is positively linked to improved health and reduced risk of cardiometabolic diseases.

Faculty Scientist, Aaron Brown, PhD, and his dedicated team at the MaineHealth Institute for Research are diligently working to unravel the secrets of activating brown adipose tissue to enhance calorie expenditure and explore its therapeutic potential for weight reduction. While there are drugs currently under study to activate brown fat, many of them come with unfortunate side effects that are difficult to reverse and may even heighten the risk of cardiometabolic diseases, which is precisely the opposite of their intended effect.

The Power of Optogenetics

However, Dr. Brown’s lab has achieved significant breakthroughs through the application of optogenetics, a cutting-edge technique that leverages the power of light to precisely manipulate specific cellular processes.  They successfully engineered brown fat cells to be responsive to light by incorporating a light-inducible gene from a soil-dwelling bacterium.

This innovative approach allowed them to delve into the potential of light-based activation for brown fat cells. Their groundbreaking research revealed that stimulation of these photosensitive brown fat cells with blue light resulted in a remarkable 400% increase in the burning of calorie-rich fuel substrates, such as sugars and fats. This exciting work was published in the journal iScience this year.

By shedding light on the mechanisms through which brown fat cells enhance energy expenditure via optogenetic activation, Dr. Brown’s work opens doors to the development of potential therapies aimed at reversing obesity-related disorders. While these experimental approaches are not yet ready for use in humans, the hope for effective obesity therapies shines brighter than ever.