The patches were tested on mice and researchers reported their fat was reduced by 20 percent when using the device. White fat stores excess energy in large triglyceride droplets.
Newborns have a lot of brown fat, which protects against exposure to cold temperatures, but most is lost by adulthood.
If a pill or treatment can easily transform an adult's white fat into brown fat, a process known as browning, it could be the holy grail in the fight against rising obesity levels and diabetes, and researchers have been hunting for this solution for years.
Tubby rodents lost a fifth more fat on the side of the body where they wore the patch. Browning can occur naturally when the body is exposed to cold temperatures. These nanoparticles were loaded into a finger-tip sized skin patch containing dozens of microscopic needles that pierced the skin.
There are several clinically available drugs that promote browning, but all must be given as pills or injections, exposing the whole body to the drugs, which can lead to side effects such as stomach upset, weight gain, and bone fractures. When applied to skin, the needles painlessly pierce the skin and gradually release the drug from nanoparticles into underlying tissue.
By contrast, the skin patch circumvents these complications by delivering the drugs directly to the region needed, such as the areas of flesh above the hips.
During trials, patches containing two compounds - either rosiglitazone (Avandia) or beta-adrenergic receptor agonist (CL 316243) - were stuck to obese mice. New patches were applied every three days for four weeks.
Each mouse was given two patches-one loaded with drug, containing nanoparticles and another without drug, that were placed on either side of the lower abdomen. Control mice were also given two empty patches.
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Mice treated with either of the two drugs had a 20 percent reduction in fat on the treated side compared with the untreated side.
It can also help treat metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes.
The findings are published in the journal ACS Nano.
Genetic analyses revealed that the treated side contained more genes associated with brown fat than on the untreated side, suggesting that the metabolic changes and fat reduction were due to an increase in browning in the treated mice.
"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", Qiang said.
Humans have both types, but as we age, we lose more and more of our brown fat, leaving mostly white fat behind.
"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", he said.
Mice given the drug gained 40 percent less weight than the control group.
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