Someday in the not-too-distant future, getting rid of those unwanted "love handles" may be as easy as applying skin patches to your lower abdomen. In experiments on obese mice, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center and the University of North Carolina have successfully used such patches to slim the creatures down.
There are already drugs that convert energy-storing white fat into energy-burning brown fat, while also raising the body's metabolism. These have to be taken orally or via injections, however, so they affect the whole body. This causes side effects such as stomach upset, bone fractures and (ironically) weight gain.
To get around that problem, the scientists first encapsulated such drugs within microscopic nanoparticles. These were subsequently incorporated into a centimeter-square skin patch with an array of microneedles on its underside.
When that patch is applied to skin, the needles painlessly pierce its surface, releasing the particles into the underlying fat cells in a sustained fashion. There, the particles break down, releasing the drugs only where they're needed – directly into the white fat.
In lab tests, obese mice each had two patches applied to them, one on either side of their bodies. One of those patches contained a compound known to convert white fat into brown, while another simply contained empty nanoparticles. These patches were replaced with new ones once every three days, for a total of four weeks.
After the treatment period, it was found that the mice experienced a 20 percent reduction in fat on the treated side, as compared to the untreated side. Additionally, when regular lean mice were treated, their metabolic activity increased by 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," says Columbia's Dr. Li Qiang, co-leader of the study. "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."
The technology has yet to be tested on humans. A paper on the research was recently published in the journal ACS Nano.