CoolCell Aids Research on Metabolic Disease

The brown bear, or grizzly, must store huge reserves of fat before winter hibernation. Studies on how these animals avoid the diseases associates with obesity could provide some useful insights into treating metabolic disorders in humans. Image credit:

In an independent publication [1], BioCision’s CoolCell freezer container is cited as part of a protocol for preserving adipocytes from the American brown bear.

And just why, you might ask, is preserving brown bear fat cells important? Brown bears, as we all know, hibernate through most of the winter, a process they prepare for by gaining large amounts of weight, which they can use as stored energy during the lean months. Technically, the bears don’t  undergo true hibernation; their behavior is more properly termed “winter lethargy”, meaning that though they sleep a great deal and eat very little, the huge animals are still capable of normal activity if they are startled awake, or in need of more food. All the same, they store large amounts of energy in subcutaneous fat deposits, without encountering any of the problems we humans associate with obesity– namely Type 2 diabetes, metabolic disease, and heart disease. Studying the unique metabolism of the brown bear’s fat tissue can therefor offer unique insights into how these metabolic problems may be avoided.

The research group working on this project hails from Washington State University; Washington being one of the few remaining states in the U.S. where both black bears and brown bears (grizzly bears) still roam wild. The goal of the group’s current publication is to establish the most effective protocols for isolating and culturing bear adipocytes. They will then use their results as a basis for conservation work, as well as for increasing our understanding of metabolic disorders in humans.

CoolCell Aids Research on Metabolic Disease

Mature brown bear adipocytes like those pictured above will be used to advance our understanding of hibernation physiology. Image credit: Gehring J.L., et al., 2016.

To begin their research, the scientists isolated mesenchymal stem cells from subcutaneous fat tissue samples collected from captive male and female brown bears. Tissue fractions partially enriched for adipocytes were frozen down, using a CoolCell® cell freezing container to ensure a cooling rate of 1°C/minute. These cell fractions were stored at -80°C until they could be transferred to liquid nitrogen. Differentiation conditions were then optimized to establish a pure colony of adipocytes, a portion of which were also cryopreserved as soon as sufficient numbers of cells were attained. The remaining cells were cultured under a number of different test conditions. The optimized culturing protocol the team arrived at succeeded in generating hormone-sensitive, lipase-expressing, lipid-producing adipocytes. These cells were further characterized in terms of lipid accumulation, leptin profiles, effects of long-term culturing, and other physiological parameters pertinent to fat cells.

The successful isolation and culture of these cells will provide the needed groundwork for further studies on the unique ‘healthy obesity” exhibited by these impressive animals. Human adipose-derived stem cells are already being investigated for their potential use in reconstructive surgery and other facets of cell therapy. Studying the extreme metabolic adaptation of brown bear adipocytes to their environment will advance our understanding of the bear’s biology for conservation purposes, as well as our understanding of how fat cells respond to metabolic cues. In the future, this will no doubt help researchers develop new treatments for human metabolic disease.


[1] Gehring, J. L., et al. A protocol for the isolation and cultivation of brown bear (Ursus arctos) adipocytes. Cytotechnology. 1-15. Feb. 2016.