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Image credit: James Leynse via Getty Images

A nanoparticle-coated skin patch could treat obesity and diabetes

It reduced fat stores in obese mice and increased their metabolic activity.
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James Leynse via Getty Images

A new study out today in ACS Nano presents an interesting and effective way to reduce fat stores in the body. Researchers at Columbia University and the University of North Carolina showed that a patch loaded with nanoparticles could reduce fat, increase energy expenditure and ameliorate type-2 diabetes in obese mice.

The patch consists of an array of microscopic needles that help deliver drugs enclosed in nanoparticles directly into fat lying beneath the skin. Those drugs help turn white fat, which stores energy, into brown fat, which burns energy. Humans have both types, but as we age, we lose more and more of our brown fat, leaving mostly white fat behind. Therefore, it's harder to get rid of the fat we have once we store it. Turning white fat into brown -- a process called browning -- has been a concept explored by researchers looking to treat obesity and diabetes, but earlier efforts have been largely done with pills or injections, which can cause a number of side effects since they deliver the drugs to the entire body.

This patch, however, can concentrate the drug to just the area with the fat. And when they tested it on obese rats, putting a patch with drug on one side and a patch without drug on the other, researchers found that the drug side showed around 30 percent reductions of a particular type of white fat. Additionally, genes associated with brown fat were upregulated in the treated side, meaning the changes appeared to be due to a browning of the white fat stores. The patches even had an effect in healthy mice, leading to increased metabolic activity and upregulated brown fat genes.

The research team is now working on figuring out which drugs work best and at which concentrations. The treatment isn't ready for human testing, but these first results seem promising. "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," Li Qiang, one of the lead researchers of the study, said in a statement. "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."

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