DARPA hopes to find a way of getting the human body to better tolerate extreme cold.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a few different motives for this research, but the primary one shouldn’t be surprising: enabling soldiers to be comfortable in cold places for long periods of time.
Last week, Rice University in Houston announced that one of its assistant professors of bioengineering, Jerzy Szablowski, received a Young Faculty Award from DARPA to research non-genetic drugs that can “Temporarily enhance the human body’s resilience to extreme cold exposure.”
This type of fat exists specifically to warm us up when we get cold; it stores energy and only activates in cold temperatures.
An unfortunate majority of American adults have the opposite problem: too much white fat, which increases the risk of conditions like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
While white fat is made of fatty acids called lipids, brown fat is dense in mitochondria. When we get cold our bodies start pumping out the hormone norepinephrine, which attaches to receptors on brown fat cells, signalling the mitochondria to create energy-and warming us up in the process.
“If you have a drug that makes brown fat more active, then instead of having to spend weeks and weeks adapting to cold, you can perform better within hours,” he said.
Though white fat and brown fat have different compositions, it’s possible that Szablowski’s research could lead to new ways to eliminate white fat and treat obesity as well.