A microneedle skin patch has been devised at a university research centre that could help treat obesity and diabetes – and works brilliantly for spot fat removal – in the future, after successful mouse trials were completed.
The skin patch is capable of converting white fat – the energy-storing kind – to brown fat – the energy-burning kind. The overall metabolism of the mice rose, meaning the mice burnt more fat, while the change in the type of fat meant less fat was stored.
The patches effectively removed fatty deposits as it was applied selectively on certain areas of their bodies.
About white and brown fat
Our bodies contain two different types of fat – white and brown. These two fat types behave quite differently, and oppositely in many respects.
White fat stores energy and collects around the body, including around our organs (visceral fat). White fat is made up of large triglyceride droplets, used when we don’t have food (energy, glucose) in our system to use up first.
Brown fat has much smaller fatty acid droplets, which have something that most other cells in the body also have, but that white fat cells do not: mitochondria. That is, a tiny little energy-production factory that converts glucose into real energy units. The mitochondria break down the brown fat to make quick energy, compared to white fat, which could be described as longer-term fat storage.
New babies and hibernating bears have much more brown fat than white fat, which helps to keep them both warm. The fat can be burnt to keep your body temperature stable, which is why a baby and a bear sleeping in a cave don’t succumb to the cold. As we get older, this store of brown fat is largely lost.
If you are exposed to the cold, your stores of brown fat will naturally increase, but besides that, it’s been difficult to figure out how to deliberately cause the transfer of white fat to brown fat. The conversion of white to brown fat may be one of the keys to treating diabetes and obesity. There are some pills and injections that are meant to stimulate the conversion, but these drugs can affect the whole body negatively, while these patches target only specific areas of the body at one time.
The study – how the patches were developed and tested
The researchers created the drug-filled nanoparticles, which are comparable to the thickness of a human hair. The skin patch was then developed, containing microneedles which penetrate the skin without causing any pain, slowly releasing the nanoparticles into the skin underneath the patch.
In this study, the mice wore two regularly changed patches – one medicated, one not – for four weeks. The mice with medicated patches showed a 20 per cent reduction in fat deposits at the site of the patch, with lower blood sugar levels detected. If the mice were ‘thin’ mice (as opposed to ‘fat’), oxygen consumption was increased by 20 per cent, an indication of increased metabolism. Genes also shifted around, with the treated sites developing more genes related to brown fat compared to the other areas.