Microneedle skin patch that delivers fat-shrinking drug locally could be used to treat obesity and diabetes

September 15, 2017, Columbia University Medical Center

Researchers have devised a medicated skin patch that can turn energy-storing white fat into energy-burning brown fat locally while raising the body's overall metabolism. The patch could be used to burn off pockets of unwanted fat such as "love handles" and treat metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the University of North Carolina.

The findings, from experiments in mice, were published online today in ACS Nano.

Humans have two types of fat. White fat stores excess energy in large triglyceride droplets. Brown fat has smaller droplets and a high number of mitochondria that burn fat to produce heat. Newborns have a relative abundance of brown fat, which protects against exposure to cold temperatures. But by adulthood, most brown fat is lost.

For years, researchers have been searching for therapies that can transform an adult's white fat into brown fat—a process named browning—which can happen naturally when the body is exposed to cold temperatures—as a treatment for obesity and diabetes.

"There are several clinically available drugs that promote browning, but all must be given as pills or injections," said study co-leader Li Qiang, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and cell biology at CUMC. "This exposes the whole body to the drugs, which can lead to side effects such as stomach upset, weight gain, and bone fractures. Our skin patch appears to alleviate these complications by delivering most drugs directly to ."

To apply the treatment, the drugs are first encased in nanoparticles, each roughly 250 nanometers (nm) in diameter—too small to be seen by the naked eye. (In comparison, a human hair is about 100,000 nm wide.) The nanoparticles are then loaded into a centimeter-square containing dozens of microscopic needles. When applied to skin, the needles painlessly pierce the skin and gradually release the drug from nanoparticles into underlying tissue.

Columbia University Medical Center and the University of North Carolina have developed a skin patch that uses nanotechnology to locally turn white fat into brown fat. The patch could be used to treat metabolic conditions like obesity and diabetes. Credit: CUMC
"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," said patch designer and study co-leader Zhen Gu, PhD, associate professor of joint biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.

The new treatment approach was tested in obese mice by loading the nanoparticles with one of two compounds known to promote browning: rosiglitazone (Avandia) or beta-adrenergic receptor agonist (CL 316243) that works well in mice but not in humans. Each mouse was given two patches—one loaded with drug-containing nanoparticles and another without —that were placed on either side of the lower abdomen. New patches were applied every three days for a total of four weeks. Control mice were also given two empty patches.

Mice treated with either of the two drugs had a 20 percent reduction in fat on the treated side compared to the untreated side. They also had significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels than untreated mice.

Tests in normal, lean mice revealed that treatment with either of the two drugs increased the animals' oxygen consumption (a measure of overall metabolic activity) by about 20 percent compared to untreated controls.

Genetic analyses revealed that the treated side contained more genes associated with than on the untreated side, suggesting that the observed metabolic changes and fat reduction were due to an increase in browning in the treated .

"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," says Dr. Qiang. "What's much more important is that our patch may provide a safe and effective means of treating obesity and related such as diabetes."

The has not been tested in humans. The researchers are currently studying which drugs, or combination of drugs, work best to promote localized browning and increase overall metabolism.

The study is titled, "Locally-Induced Adipose Tissue Browning by Microneedle Patch for Obesity Treatment."

Explore further: Turning on blood flow turns on fat-burning brown fat in mice

Related Stories

Converting cells to burn fat, not store it

May 16, 2016

Researchers have uncovered a new molecular pathway for stimulating the body to burn fat - a discovery that could help fight obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Recommended for you

Engineers produce smallest 3-D transistor yet

December 10, 2018

Researchers from MIT and the University of Colorado have fabricated a 3-D transistor that's less than half the size of today's smallest commercial models. To do so, they developed a novel microfabrication technique that modifies ...

New traffic rules in 'Graphene City'

December 6, 2018

In the drive to find new ways to extend electronics beyond the use of silicon, physicists are experimenting with other properties of electrons, beyond charge. In work published today (Dec 7) in the journal Science, a team ...

Artificial synapses made from nanowires

December 6, 2018

Scientists from Jülich together with colleagues from Aachen and Turin have produced a memristive element made from nanowires that functions in much the same way as a biological nerve cell. The component is able to save and ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Duude
not rated yet Sep 15, 2017
Wow!!! This could be the development of a lifetime, in the western world. Who doesn't want spot reduction of fat?
Jeffhans1
not rated yet Sep 15, 2017
This could be the cure for snoring. The fat that builds up inside the tongue turns out to be the major factor that leads to snoring and being able to target that fat without surgery would be a game changer.
rrrander
1 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2017
Fat slobs would just use this as an excuse to binge-eat thereby no changing their physiques, even with this patch.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.