The new patch is the subject of a recent study published in the journal Small Methods by NTU Professor Chen Peng and assistant professor Xu Chenjie, who observed a 30% loss in fat mass in lab mice, which also had significantly lower blood cholesterol and fatty acid levels compared to untreated mice.
The device is a skin patch containing hundreds of micro-needles, each thinner than a human hair. When pressed onto a test subject, the needles detach from the patch and embed in the skin. Then the needles degrade and slowly diffuse the drug molecules into the energy-storing white fat under the skin, turning them into energy-burning brown fats.
Brown fats are commonly found in human babies. They burn up energy in order to keep babies warm. As we age, the amount of brown fat we have lessens and is replaced with white fats. The new patch essentially converts those white fats into brown fats and burns them away.
"With the embedded microneedles in the skin of the mice, the surrounding fats started browning in five days, which helped to increase the energy expenditure of the mice, leading to a reduction in body fat gain," said Asst Prof Xu, who researches drug delivery systems.
That breakthrough could be a major win in the worldwide war against obesity. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.9 billion adults in the world are overweight with 650 million of them being obese. Obesity is a major health risk for heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes.
"What we aim to develop is a painless patch that everyone could use easily, is unobtrusive and yet affordable," said Prof Chen, a biotechnology expert who researches obesity. "Most importantly, our solution aims to use a person's own body fats to burn more energy, which is a natural process in babies."
Researchers hope that these microneedle patches can be developed into a treatment for obesity in the near future, but until then, we’ll have to get back on the treadmill to achieve our weight loss goals this year.