Researchers have developed a medicated skin patch that can essentially melt fat in mice. The patch uses nanotechnology to turn the energy-storing white fat in the body into brown fat that burns energy, as well as boost the body's metabolism.
The patch holds promise in burning off unwanted fat deposits in the body such as the so-called love handles at the sides of a waistline. It also has potentials in treating metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.
The white fat in humans stores excess energy while the brown fat burns fat to produce heat. Researchers have long been on a hunt for therapies that can transform white fat into brown fat. The process is called browning.
Although there are available drugs that promote browning, all of these are administered as pills or injections, which can cause unwanted side effects such as bone fractures, weight gain and stomach upset.
The new skin patch works differently in that it delivers most drugs directly to the fat tissue, which alleviates complications.
How The Fat-Melting Skin Patch Works
The centimeter-square skin patch that contains dozens of microscopic needles are loaded with drug-encased nanoparticles. Once the patch is applied to the skin, the needles painlessly pierce the skin and slowly release the drugs in the nanoparticles into the underlying tissue.
Researchers found that in obese mice that were given drug-containing patches, the treated sides showed 20 percent fat reduction compared with the untreated side. These mice also had significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels compared with mice given empty patches.
In lean mice, treatment with drug-containing patches boosted the oxygen consumption by about 20 percent.
Genetic analyses likewise showed that the treated side has more genes associated with brown fat compared with the untreated side, which suggests that the metabolic changes and fat reduction the researchers observed can be attributed to an increase in the browning process.
"This microneedle-based patch can effectively deliver browning agents to the subcutaneous adipocytes in a sustained manner and switch on the "browning" at the targeted region. It is demonstrated that this patch reduces treated fat pad size, increases whole body energy expenditure, and improves type-2 diabetes in vivo in a diet-induced obesity mouse model," Li Qiang, from Columbia University Medical Center, and colleagues wrote in their study, which was published in ACS Nano on Sept. 15.
Not Yet Tested On Humans
Despite the promising results in animal experiments, the patch has not yet been tested in human subjects.