Fat-burning skin patch shows great promise in early tests in mice

18 Sep 2017

Image: Kirill Kurashov/Shutterstock

The future looks bright for a skin patch that could help those dealing with metabolic disorders and obesity.

While so far only tested on mice, a new skin patch has shown promising results when it comes to the conversion of what is commonly referred to as ‘white fat’.

Unlike ‘brown fat’ – which contains smaller droplets and a high number of mitochondria that burn fat to produce heat, commonly seen in newborn babies – white fat stores excess energy in large triglyceride droplets.

Whereas brown fat disappears by adulthood, this white fat is the greatest contributor to conditions such as obesity or metabolic disorders, including diabetes.

Now, a team of researchers from Columbia University Medical Center and the University of North Carolina believes it has discovered how to turn white fat into brown fat through a new ‘browning’ technique in the human body.

To do this, the researchers used drugs that instigate a browning effect and which are encased in nanoparticles, each roughly 250 nanometres in diameter.

They are then loaded into a centimetre-square skin patch containing dozens of microscopic needles, which painlessly pierce the skin and gradually release the drug from the nanoparticles into underlying tissue.

This, the team said, makes it considerably more accurate, easier and quicker than existing treatments.

20pc white fat reduction

“There are several clinically available drugs that promote browning, but all must be given as pills or injections,” explained study co-leader Li Qiang.

“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 fat tissue.”

The mice used during testing of the drug were shown to have a 20pc reduction in white fat on the treated side, in addition to having 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 – typically a measure of overall metabolic activity – by about 20pc.

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

The next step for the researchers is to see which drugs – or combination of drugs – would work to promote localised browning and increase overall metabolism before it can be treated on humans.

Their research has been published in the journal ACS Nano.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic