Why that spare tyre could be GOOD for your health: Hard-to-shift fat helps to regulate your immune systemCould stop patients' bodies rejecting organ transplantsHope for those with Lupus or Crohn's disease

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UPDATED:

20:13 GMT, 6 June 2012

Dieters desperate to get rid of that spare tyre can finally let it all hang out.

That muffin-top could actually help to regulate the immune system and provide a first line of defence against infection and viruses.

A hard-to-shift beer belly could even help regenerate damaged tissue after an injury.

Beer belly: That muffin-top could actually help regulate the immune system and provide a first line of defence against infection and viruses

Beer belly: That muffin-top could actually help regulate the immune system and provide a first line of defence against infection and viruses

The fatty membrane in the belly, called the omentum, has never seemed to serve much of a purpose.

But now the research by scientists in Chicago has shown it can be a health benefit – and their discovery could lead to the development of new drugs for organ transplant patients with auto-immune diseases such as Lupus and Crohn’s disease.

The omentum lines the abdominal cavity, covering most abdominal organs, and is where fat tissue is stored.

The research team found that cells from this membrane can differentiate into lung-type cells and bone cells.

The discovery could be vital in stopping transplant patients' bodies rejecting new organs

The discovery could be vital in stopping transplant patients' bodies rejecting new organs

They now believe the omentum may be assist tissue healing and regeneration.

'We now have evidence that the omentum is not just fat sitting in the belly,' said Dr Makio Iwashima, from the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

The team also found that the cells can suppress the immune system's response to an infectious agent.

This discovery could lead to new drugs to help transplant patients avoid the rejection of new organs.

Many drugs currently available can have serious side effects.