Kniss said that the transformation into bona fide fat cells took about two weeks to complete. At that point, the cells were able to absorb lipids a hallmark task of fat cells.
Researchers were able to extract RNA from the cells, just as they can from naturally occurring fat cells, and from that proved that the cells expressed the normally expected array of genes, and subsequent proteins and did so as well as occurs in normal tissue. So far, the researchers have kept the cells alive and thriving for several months and hope to maintain them for up to a year.
"We know that the environment in which a community of cells finds itself has a great deal of influence on the biology underway within those cells," Kniss said. "And that biology is always translated into changes in gene expression and assemblies of proteins." That is why the three-dimensional scaffolding for cell growth in the laboratory is so important.
The researchers' focus on fat cells as a test bed for this approach to cell growth offers important medical potential. While experts once thought a persons number of fat cells was set at birth, they now know individuals can either lose existing fat cells or grow new ones. And aside from the implications for dieting and obesity, a person's population of fat cells has other vital roles.
Fat cells extract lipids, or fatty acids, from the bloodstream. They also become a huge reservoir for glucose as well, and play a role in insulins ability to effectively convert glucose into energy.