Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of 13 types of cancer, including breast and colorectal, the two most prevalent cancers, together with cardiovascular disease, one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
The most harmful type of obesity is caused by excessive accumulation of visceral fat, commonly called "deep" fat. While the most visible fat stores, or subcutaneous fat, are located directly under the skin, visceral fat is the fat stored inside our abdominal cavity, surrounding our vital internal organs. Normal amounts of visceral fat support a number of fundamental functions, such as reproduction. However, too much visceral fat produces unhealthy levels of proteins and hormones that negatively impact neighbouring tissues and organs, and it can be very difficult to eliminate.
DPAG’s Associate Professor Ana Domingos has collaborated with researchers from the Champalimaud Research Programme in Portugal and the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Germany to explore the mechanisms that naturally reduce visceral fat with the aim of uncovering potential clinical applications to benefit patients suffering from obesity. In doing so, they have uncovered the first known neuro-immune process by which brain signals instruct immune function in visceral fat stores. This discovery offers several new approaches to tackle obesity and its related illness.