A new skin patch has shown the ability to change white fat (energy-storing) into brown fat (energy-burning), opening the possibility for a new treatment for metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and an alternative option to liposuction.

Researchers from Columbia University, New York, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill developed the microneedle-based patch which contains nanoparticles loaded with the ‘browning’ agent, rosiglitazone. The needles are microscopic and painlessly pierce the skin when applied. 

“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,” write the authors.

The patch was tested on mice. For 4 weeks each mouse was administered two patches placed on either side of their abdomen, one loaded with the drug-containing nanoparticles and one without the drug. New patches were administered every 3 days.  

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At the end of the 4 weeks, the mice demonstrated a 20% reduction in fat on the side of their abdomen where the patch with drug-containing nanoparticles was placed vs. the side that contained no drug. Additionally, fasting blood glucose levels decreased from 140mg/dL in control mice to ∼110mg/dL. 

“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 Li Qiang, PhD, professor of pathology and cell biology at CUMC and co-author 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.”

Results from genetic analysis of the in vivo studies suggest that the improved metabolic changes and fat reduction on the drug-treated side of the abdomen were due to an increase in browning. The patch has yet to be tested on humans and the researchers are currently investigating the best combination of drugs to promote localized browning. 

For more information visit ACS.org.