Weight loss usually involves months of changing your diet, a lot of exercise, and a ton of dedication. However, in the future, the time it takes to lose weight might be cut down significantly, thanks to a skin patch made by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the University of North Carolina. Their study involves using the skin patch which turns white fat into brown fat locally, all while raising the body’s metabolism. It was tested and found successful in lab mice.
Humans have two kinds of fat made of energy stored into triglyceride droplets. White fat stores excess energy in larger droplets. Brown fat, on the other hand, has smaller droplets and a higher count of mitochondria that burns easier to produce heat. Babies have a lot of the later, but as we grow older, we lose most of it. Usually, it takes quite a lot of effort for white fat to burn and produce energy, but with brown fat, it’s much easier to do so.
Source: YouTube, Columbia Medicine
For years, researchers are trying to find a way to convert white fat to brown fat using a process called “browning”, which usually only happens to adults when the body is exposed to cold temperatures.
“There are several clinically available drugs that promote browning, but all must be given as pills or injections,” says Li Qiang, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology at CUMC and co-leader of the study. “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.”, he added.
The patch works by having these browning drugs encased in particles 250 nanometers in diameter. They’re placed into the centimeter-square skin patch with a bunch of microneedles in them. Once applied, the patch painlessly pierces the skin and release the drug into the tissue directly.
Source: ACS Nano
“The nanoparticles were designed to effectively hold the drug and then gradually collapse, releasing it into nearby tissue in a sustained way instead of spreading the drug throughout the body quickly,” explains Zhen Gu, PhD, co-leader of the study and associate professor of joint biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.
When tested on mice, it was found that those who received the treatment had a 20% reduction in fat compared to the untreated control mice. They also had lower fasting glucose levels.
The researchers are now trying to study different kinds and combinations of browning drugs will work best to improve the localized browning process and increase overall metabolism. These patches have yet to be tested on humans but the researchers are hoping to take that next step.