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As If

New Advice: Eat a Cookie, Save a Life

April 12, 2001|PATT MORRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When "fathead" is flattery and "lard butt" is a compliment, it really is the new millennium.

Fat chance? How about, fat's second chance?

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh have discovered that medically valuable stem cells, which until now have been harvested with some difficulty and much political controversy from bone marrow and fetal tissue, may now be as close, as handy, as easily procured as the nearest liposuction tube.

Stem cells are building-block cells that are proving to be as useful and versatile in treating human disease as duct tape is in fixing everything else--chameleon cells that can transform themselves into almost any kind of body tissue. And the richest source, the deepest mines of these stem cells may be found in human fat.

Fat--despised, deplored fat--could become the unexpected hero of medical science, the magic bullet to regenerate bone and muscle and glands and whole organs.

There was a time in human history, beyond the memory of Los Angeles in general and Jennifer Lopez in particular, when fat people were envied as the rich, the prosperous, the well-fed, the fortunate beings among us.

Happy days, flabby days, are here again.

While the medical applications of this breakthrough are amazing--possible cures for Alzheimer's and diabetes, for cancer and heart disease and spinal cord injuries--we've come to take "amazing" for granted.

It's the charitable possibilities that are mind-boggling.

Instead of those tiresome ads urging us to donate our old cars to this cause or that, we'll hear a new generation of charitable spots: "Hey, tired of carrying around fat that you no longer need? Fat that costs you time and trouble? Well, no more. You can donate that fat to medical research. Call our toll-free number, and our medical experts will extract your spare fat. It won't cost you a cent. And you can write off the full, fair market value of your fat on your taxes."

The 1040 form will have a new space to declare in-kind donations of avoirdupois.

The fattest person in town will become the most heroic, the most benevolent, the most civic-minded. Fat people will wear badges like those issued to blood donor, boasting, "I gave 20, 50, 100 pounds. What about you?" The bumper-sticker industry will retool its dies: "Save a life--eat seconds."

And not too long thereafter, thin people will start going on "Oprah" to weep about being mocked and teased, about how they don't get the best jobs or the best spouses, about how hard they try to gain weight but no one will give them a chance.

Diet remedies will have to be packaged and shipped in plain brown wrappers, the way dirty magazines used to be.

Cartographers will add fat to those atlas maps listing America's natural resources, just like bauxite and gold. New Orleans, with more obese people than any other American city, will issue commemorative license plates reading "Fat City, and Proud of It." Residents of Los Angeles and San Diego, at the bottom of the poundage list, will get care packages from concerned relatives, boxes of chocolates with discreet and loving notes suggesting that they bulk up, and do their bit for science.

Oh, it's a brave new world, it is. I think I'll have a doughnut to celebrate.

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