Most people would be happy to get rid of excess body fat. Even better: Trade the spare tire for something useful — say, better-functioning knees or hips, or a fix for an ailing heart or a broken bone.
The idea is not far-fetched, some scientists say. Researchers worldwide are repurposing discarded fat to repair body parts damaged by injury, disease or age. Recent studies in lab animals and humans show that the much-maligned material can be a source of cells useful for treating a wide range of ills.
Fat’s virtues is its richness of stem cells, which have the ability to divide and grow into a wide variety of tissue types. Fat stem cells — also known as adipose-derived stem cells — can be coerced to grow into bone, cartilage, muscle tissue or, of course, more fat.
The stem cells in fat share the medical-worthy spotlight with a few other cells. Along with the fat-filled adipocytes that store energy, fat tissue has its own blood supply and supporting connective tissue, called stroma. The stroma contains blood cells, immune cells, endothelial cells that line the inner surface of blood vessels and pericytes, which line the outer surface. These other fat-derived cells are proving to have therapeutic value as well.
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