Ever wanted an easy way to get rid of the stubborn excess fat around your midriff? Well, scientists have come up with a clever way to combat “love handles” in mice. They hope in the future it could be used to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes in people.
Using a special medicated skin patch, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the University of North Carolina managed to turn unwanted white fat into more desirable brown fat in obese mice. The study was published in ACS Nano.
We have two kinds of fat – brown fat and white fat. White fat is stored as large droplets and is hard to get rid of. Meanwhile, brown fat is broken down more easily and burned to produce heat. Babies naturally have lots of brown fat to protect them from the cold. Adults have much less, although we do convert white fat to brown fat in very cold situations.
Ways to turn fat from white to brown has long been sought after and a few treatments do already exist. However, these are invasive, like drugs and injections, and cause a number of side effects. Excitingly, the new skin patch seems to directly target fat tissue without these unwanted complications.
It works by delivering drugs encased in tiny nanoparticles, each 250 nanometers in diameter. For scale, a hair is 100,000 nanometers wide. The nanoparticles are added to the skin patch, which is just a centimeter square in size. It has lots of tiny needles attached to it, which painlessly inject the drugs into the body.
“The nanoparticles were designed to effectively hold the drug and then gradually collapse, releasing it into nearby tissue in a sustained way instead of spreading the drug throughout the body quickly,” explained study co-leader Professor Zhen Gu, who designed the patch, in a statement.
To see whether their patches worked, the researchers placed one drug-containing patch on one side of the mice and an empty patch on the other, replacing them every three days for four weeks. They also had control mice with two empty patches.
Mice with a drug patch showed a 20 percent decrease in fat on that side of their body. They also had much lower fasting blood glucose levels than controls.
The patches were also tested on lean mice. Treated mice had improved metabolism, with their oxygen consumption rising by about 20 percent.
“Many people will no doubt be excited to learn that we may be able to offer a noninvasive alternative to liposuction for reducing love handles,” said study co-leader Dr Li Qiang. “What’s much more important is that our patch may provide a safe and effective means of treating obesity and related metabolic disorders such as diabetes.”