Could a skin patch melt away unwanted fat?

'Fat patch' to provide targeted weight-loss trialed in the US

Newborns have a relative abundance of brown fat, which protects against exposure to cold temperatures. Therefore, for a long time, specialists and researchers have tried to find the way to turn white fat into brown fat to fight fat accumulation and metabolic disorders.

Experiments on mice at Columbia University Medical Centre revealed that drugs converting surplus white fat into energy-burning brown fat could be successfully targeted via patches.

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 drugs are put into nanoparticles, microscopic containers exponentially thinner than a strand of hair.

These nanoparticles were loaded into a finger-tip sized skin patch containing dozens of microscopic needles that pierced the skin.

Nanoparticles located in the needles are released into the underlying tissue and spreading the drug across the body. While diet and exercise aren't able to "spot treat" fat - that is, eliminate it from just one part of the body - this micro-needle patch can.

In lean mice, treatment with drug-containing patches boosted the oxygen consumption by about 20 percent. New patches were applied every three days for four weeks. Control mice were also given two empty patches.

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The new approach has been tested in obese mice and showed a 20 percent reduction in fat on the treated fat compared to fat that was untreated.

They also had significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels than untreated mice.

Doctors say it could soon be used to treat obesity and diabetes after successful trials in mice.

Upon conducting genetic analyses, the researchers likewise found that the treated side had more genes linked to brown fat, suggesting that the "melting" of fat can be attributed to the browning process. Even better and more importantly, the patch could serve as a future treatment for metabolic conditions or diabetes. Researchers say that now the patch is not compatible with humans, but they'll keep investigating to adapt it. But all of these now exist only in pill and injection form.

This new skin patch appears to have mastered the process of browning. The other contributors are Yuqi Zhang (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC), Qiongming Liu (CUMC), Jicheng Yu (University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University), Shuangjiang Yu (University of North Carolina and Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Changchun, Jilin, China), and Jinqiang Wang (University of North Carolina).

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