Genetic engineering could now allow us to treat or even prevent obesity.

Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis believe they have found a way to convert bad fat into good, and the results have been published in Cell Reports.

The researchers discovered that by genetically engineering mice that didn’t produce a protein called PexRAP, they could turn white fat into beige fat, an intermediary between white and brown fat that functions more like the latter.

The mice without PexRAP in their white fat cells were found to have more beige fat, and in addition they were leaner than the control animals, even when they were eating the same amount of food.

There is hope that the tests from the mice could yield better treatments for obesity and diabetes caused by weight gain in humans. The papers first author, Irfan J. Lodhi, PhD, said in a press release, “Our research suggests that by targeting a protein in white fat, we can convert bad fat into a type of fat that fights obesity.”

However, the next challenge is to try and work out how this technique can be modified for human usage. More than two-thirds of adults in the US are either overweight or obese, and some 30 million people suffer from diabetes. Blocking the production of PexRAP protein could potentially make it easier for those people to lose weight.

Lodhi concluded, “The challenge will be finding safe ways to block PexRAP protein without causing a person to overheat or develop a fever, but drug developers now have a good target.”