The scientists from the U.S. have found that belly fat can be useful, though previously it was considered a throwback like the appendix: this fat layer helps regulate the immune system, as the data published in the PLoS ONE journal suggest.
The findings of the scientists may help develop new medicines for the patients, undergoing transplantation of organs and tissues, as well as for the people suffering from autoimmune diseases, such as lupus (systemic connective tissue disease) or Crohn’s disease (chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract).
According to the co-author of the study, PhD Makio Iwashima, Professor of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, the scientists now have the proof that omentum is not just fat. These words are quoted in a university news release.
Omentum is a membrane lining the abdominal cavity and covering most of its organs. It is the repository for the adipose tissue. The research team, led by Dr. Iwashima and world-renowned transplant surgeon Robert Love, studied the effect of the interaction of belly fat cells and T-lymphocytes in mice. Lymphocytes are the first immune barrier in the way of infection, they identify, attack and destroy bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents.
Normally, T-lymphocytes reproduce themselves in response to infectious agents, participating in the production of antibodies. However, when the researchers combined belly fat cells with activated T-lymphocytes, they did not increase in number, as they should have done, but died instead. Such an effect was observed only in those omentum cells, where the T-cells were activated. Non-activated T-lymphocytes were not influenced by belly fat cells.
This means that omentum cells secrete a substance that suppresses the immune system. This finding may serve to create new drugs that can reduce the immune system with less severe side effects than those immunosuppressive drugs that are used today. Such drugs could be used to prevent rejection in the patients, who have undergone lung transplanting.
Professor Iwashima suggests that in addition to the ability to influence the immune system omentum also plays a critical role in the regeneration of the damaged tissue. It contains mesenchymal stem cells that stream to the site of injury and assist in tissue repair. These cells have the ability to turn into different types of specialized cells.
In their study, the researchers show that cultured omentum cells can be transformed into lung cells as well as into bone cells. Dr. Iwashima believes that belly fat can become a source of specialized cells for the treatment and repair of tissues of different organs.