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Scientists Gain Insight into the Mechanisms of Fat Burning and Storage

A new understanding of the interaction of two proteins and their role in fat burning and storage may one day have implications for the treatment of obesity and associated diseases such as diabetes and cancer, according to Weill Cornell Medicine investigators.

Their preclinical research, published May 17 in Nature Communications, explores how the proteins p62 and NBR1 influence thermogenesis, or fat burning to produce body heat, in brown adipose tissue (BAT), a form of fat.

Jorge Moscat, PhD
Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

“The increasing prevalence of obesity is alarming because of its association with glucose intolerance and type-2 diabetes,” said senior author Dr. Jorge Moscat, vice-chair for experimental pathology and the Homer T. Hirst III Professor of Oncology in Pathology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. Additionally, recent epidemiological studies have pointed to an association between obesity and increased cancer risk in several organs, such as the liver and prostate, he said.

Furthermore, obese adults are at an increased risk of complications from COVID-19, said co-author Dr. Maria T. Diaz-Meco, Homer T. Hirst Professor of Oncology in Pathology and Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Once scientists discover the underlying mechanisms of fat accumulation and fat burning, they can potentially develop therapies for obesity. Specifically, researchers are trying to better understand BAT. Brown fat burns energy to keep people warm, while white fat stores energy. Prior research has found a correlation between more metabolically active BAT and a lower body mass index in adults.

“BAT is believed to help reduce adiposity, and the epidemic of obesity has greatly increased the interest in this metabolically active type of fat,” said Dr. Moscat, who is also associate director of shared resources in the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.     

Pregnant Women Who Receive COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines Pass Antibodies to Their Babies

Women who receive COVID-19 mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna while in their third trimester of pregnancy generate a strong immune response and pass protective antibodies through umbilical cord blood to their babies, according to a study conducted by Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian researchers, published April 28 in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Yawei (Jenny) Yang, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Researchers studied 122 women who received the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine during pregnancy and analyzed the antibody response mounted upon vaccination. They also assessed the presence of antibodies in the cord blood of babies born to these women at the time of birth. The research demonstrated that 99 percent of newborns had protective antibodies after their mothers received both vaccine doses, and 44 percent of babies had antibodies after one dose. 

“Receiving two doses prior to birth will increase the likelihood that antibodies are transferred to the baby,” said lead study author Dr. Malavika Prabhu, associate director of labor and delivery at Weill Cornell Medicine and at NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns. “This finding is encouraging for pregnant women who want to protect both themselves and their newborn against COVID-19.”

The researchers also found that vaccination led to antibody production in pregnant women as early as five days after the first dose, while the transfer of antibodies through the placenta to the baby occurred as early as 16 days after the first dose. The researchers also observed that the higher the maternal antibody levels, the higher the newborn antibody levels, and that the chances of having detectable antibodies in the mother and in their neonates increase with time elapsed since vaccination.

“The study suggests that women who are pregnant shouldn’t delay getting both vaccine doses if they have access to vaccination,” said senior study author Dr. Yawei Jenny Yang, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending pathologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Ensuring an adequate amount of time between vaccination and birth ensures that the pregnant woman has enough time to mount an antibody response as well as enough time to pass antibodies on through the cord blood.”

New Technique Provides Detailed Map of Lung Pathology in COVID-19

A team led by investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian has used advanced technology and analytics to map, at single-cell resolution, the cellular landscape of diseased lung tissue in severe COVID-19 and other infectious lung diseases.

In the study, published online March 29 in Nature, the researchers imaged autopsied lung tissue in a way that simultaneously highlighted dozens of molecular markers on cells. Analyzing these data using novel analytical tools revealed new insights into the causes of damage in these lung illnesses and a rich data resource for further research.


lung sections from early and late-stage COVID-19 patients showing fibrosis

Immune cells (red) migrate near the cells that cause fibrosis (green) in late COVID-19. Images courtesy of André Rendeiro.


“COVID-19 is a complex disease, and we still don’t understand exactly what it does to a lot of organs, but with this study we were able to develop a much clearer understanding of its effects on the lungs,” said co-senior author Dr. Olivier Elemento, professor of physiology and biophysics, director of the Caryl and Israel Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, associate director of the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-Director of the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction, which funded the technology for single cell analysis of tissue. “I think the technological approach we used here is going to become standard for studying such diseases.”

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