This image is familiar to scientists who work on a variety of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Fat cells spread across the field, a sparse scene dominated by large white blobs that store energy. Each adipocyte contains an enormous lipid droplet that pushes the cell’s nucleus to the side.
Scientists monitor both the number and size of white fat cells when investigating potential treatments for diseases such as type 2 diabetes. They also look for immune cells between the fat cells because inflammation is correlated with disease. It’s associated with the development of resistance to insulin, the hormone that instructs cells—especially fat and muscle cells—to absorb glucose from the blood stream. When patients are insulin resistant, it’s difficult for them to maintain consistent blood sugar levels. One therapeutic strategy is to normalize the fat cells to re-sensitize them to the effects of insulin.