Good news for those who seek to shed their holiday pounds, for researchers announced on Thursday in Austria that they have found a way to suppress growth of fat cells.

So far, the method has been used in mice, by unlocking a genetic mechanism. Such a method could eventually help humans, too.

By modifying a certain gene, the molecular biologists were able to raise very lean, but healthy, animals that developed almost no white fat cells, according to a study published in the US journal Cell.

The modified gene, named “hedgehog,” did not block the growth of brown fat cells, which directly turn fat contained in food into heat, and which are not related to obesity.

It is important for animals to retain some amount of such brown fat in order to regulate blood sugar levels.

“Almost all fat regulators that had been found so far influence both white and brown fat,” said Andrew Pospisilik, one of the leading researchers of the project. “With ‘hedgehog,’ we have found one of the first molecules that targets only white fat.” The scientists said their discovery had great potential for being used in pharmaceutical products to fight obesity.

“To convert energy from food into body heat instead of fat is an attractive idea, especially in this season,” they said in a statement. Jan 10

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