Rice University has announced a prestigious award for one of its scientists to pursue the development of a new drug with unique benefits: Bioengineer Jerzy Szablowski will use the grant to identify drugs that can make people impervious to the cold.
According to Rice, the basis for this research -- funded by DARPA -- comes down to something called brown adipose tissue or BAT for short. Also referred to as brown fat, BAT helps regulate the body’s internal temperature “by breaking down blood sugar and other fat molecules in a process known as thermogenesis.”
Two types of thermogenesis occur in the human body. One is shivering, which I think we all can agree is terrible, and the other uses BAT, which can generate heat through a chemical reaction.
Szablowski explains that “nonshivering thermogenesis kicks in sooner but is not as efficient, so it cannot generate quite as much heat, at least not in humans.” Ideally, the grant will allow Szablowki and his research patterns to find ways to kickstart non-shivering thermogenesis by boosting BAT response and put that solution into a drug format.
But why? Rice’s team highlights many applications, including medical treatment for those with hypothermia and enabling longer exploration of Arctic regions. DARPA, a defense agency, may also have an interest in how military personnel can use the drug to adapt quickly to freezing conditions.
Says Szablowski, “If you have a drug that makes brown fat more active, then instead of having to spend weeks and weeks adapting to cold, you can perform better within hours.”