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Scientists Turn Fat Into Muscle -- You're Thinking Cheesecake, Right?

July 29, 2006|Denise Gellene | Times Staff Writer

Research out of UCLA this week sounds like a dream come true: Scientists say they have found a way to turn fat cells into muscle.

As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers took stem cells from fat donated by liposuction patients and treated the cells with chemicals to produce functioning muscle cells.

When stimulated with drugs, scientists said, the tiny muscle cells flexed and stretched -- perfectly toned.

Dr. Albert D. Donnenberg of the University of Pittsburgh said the study was an important step toward providing cell-based treatments.

The body has different kinds of muscle. The UCLA team produced smooth muscle, which lines blood vessels and the intestinal tract. So the discovery won't help build biceps, which are made of skeletal muscle.

Lead author Dr. Larissa V. Rodriguez, a UCLA urologist, said the experiment could one day allow scientists to rebuild the urethra in women with urinary incontinence. Her lab is working on urethras and bladders for small animals, she said.

Rodriguez envisions using a patient's own cells to develop personalized treatments, thus avoiding the rejection problems associated with organ transplants. And stem cells from fat are easily obtained from patients, unlike the therapeutically promising mesenchymal stem cells, which are in bone marrow.

Donnenberg said fat-derived therapies are on a faster track than those using embryonic stem cells, which face technical and political obstacles.

A fat-derived treatment could be ready for human tests in two years, Rodriguez said.

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