Fat cells are not intrinsically bad: they store energy and supply building materials for new body tissue.
When the human body functions normally, fat is not harmful but useful. Fat – or lipids, as researchers say – is vital to the human body. Each and every cell in the body is surrounded by lipids that enable the exchange of information between the interior and exterior of the cell.
Cholesterol, one of the fats with the worst reputation, forms part of the membrane of nerve and other cells and facilitates the transmission of signals from cell to cell. In addition, we need cholesterol to produce other important molecules such as vitamin D, thus avoiding diseases such as rickets (deformation of the bone).
However, if the lipid metabolism is defective, too much cholesterol and other fats can accumulate in the wrong place and can result in obesity, diabetes, heart attack or stroke.
With the teams at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the University of Geneva and the University of Zurich, Gisou van der Goot is investigating the body’s lipids and the genes that control them. To do this, the team turns off each of the over 25,000 genes, one by one. This allows the observation of the effects of each gene on the approximately 1000 lipids in our cells. This procedure will enable researchers to understand when, how and where the useful fat becomes a mortal enemy.
Contact: Gisou van der Goot, gisou.vandergoot(at)epfl.ch, +41 21 693 17 91