News Release

The fat stopper

UD research identifies a protein that regulates the creation of fat cells

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Lipid Droplets

image: This image shows cells that were stained with Oil Red O stain. The red shows lipid droplets that are characteristic of fat cells view more 

Credit: University of Delaware

Biology Major Adam Reese may have found the key to keep fat cells from forming.

The University of Delaware junior believes he has identified the trigger that turns a stem cell into a fat cell. Located on the surface of cells, the trigger, a protein called endoglin, regulates what type of cell an existing stem cell will become.

Working in the biological science department's laboratory of cellular signaling and dynamics with Assistant Professor Anja Nohe, Reese investigates ways to combat osteoporosis; his findings may also have implications for obesity.

Reese will present his work at 12:25 p.m. Monday at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's annual meeting, which is being held in San Diego in conjunction with the Experimental Biology 2012 conference.

Patients afflicted with osteoporosis lose bone mass as they age. Bone is a dynamic tissue, constantly renewed by removal or reabsorption of old bone and formation of new bone. Through this cellular remodeling process, roughly one fifth of an adult's skeleton is replaced each year. Of the limited treatments developed to reduce bone loss, most have potentially serious side effects, are cost prohibitive or difficult to use.

Reese, with the help of graduate student Joyita Dutta, found the amount of endoglin on a cell's surface indicates whether the cell will become a fat cell or a bone cell.

"What would happen if you could make the cell stop making the protein?" Reese said. "You could affect whether or not it's even a fat cell."

If the amount of endoglin on the cell surface could be decreased, the amount of cells turning into bone would rise, leading to an increase in bone strength, thus ending osteoporosis.

"I didn't really expect it. I expected the data would be the other way around," said Reese's undergraduate research advisor Nohe. "It's very exciting."

According to Nohe, researchers did not previously know if endoglin was the key controlling the cells' change or if it was just a marker. She believes Reese's data shows endoglin is the driver, and pinpointing that could lead to a cure.

"Now we have a target that we could hit," she said.

The next step is to pinpoint the signaling pathway the cell is using and determine how to block it.

Reese believes the same approach might work with fat cells – decreasing the amount of endoglin on the surface of fat cells could force those cells to transform into other cell types. The resulting treatments could potentially cure obesity.


Watch a video fo Reese here:

Facts about osteoporosis

  • Impacts 50% of women and 25% of men aged 50+
  • Impacts 90% of women and 33% of men aged 75+
  • 300,000 osteoporosis-related fractures occur each year
  • 24% of those patients die within one year of the fracture
  • More women die each year from osteoporosis than die from breast and ovarian cancers combined.*

Facts about obesity

  • One out of every three American adults is obese
  • An obese person costs $1429 more in health care costs per year, compared to a non-obese adult**

*Source: Centers for Disease Control
**Source: National Institutes of Health

About Experimental Biology 2012

Experimental Biology is an annual gathering of six scientific societies that this year is expected to draw 14,000-plus independent scientists and exhibitors. The American Association of Anatomists (AAA) is a co-sponsor of the meeting, along with the American Physiological Society (APS), American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP), American Society for Nutrition (ASN) and the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET).

More information about EB2011 for the media can be found on the press page:

About the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The ASBMB is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with more than 12,000 members worldwide. Most members teach and conduct research at colleges and universities. Others conduct research in various government laboratories, at nonprofit research institutions and in industry. The Society's student members attend undergraduate or graduate institutions. For more information about ASBMB, visit

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