A new approach, published in the journal Small Methods, to reducing bulging tummy fats has shown promise in laboratory trials. The discovery could help to address the worldwide obesity problem without resorting to surgical operations or oral medication which could require large dosages and could have serious side effects.

The approach combines a new way to deliver drugs, via a micro-needle patch, with drugs that are known to turn energy-storing white fat into energy-burning brown fat. This innovative approach developed by scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) reduced weight gain in mice on a high-fat diet and their fat mass by more than 30% over four weeks.

The skin patch contains micro-needles loaded with the drug Beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist or thyroid hormone T3 triiodothyronine. When the patch is pressed into the skin for about two minutes, these micro-needles become embedded in the skin and detach from the patch. As the needles degrade, the drug molecules then slowly diffuse to the energy-storing white fat underneath the skin layer, turning them into energy-burning brown fats.

"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 focuses on research in drug delivery systems. 

 

Obesity which results from an excessive accumulation of fat is a major health risk factor for various diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.9 billion adults in the world are overweight in 2016 with 650 million of them being obese.

"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 on 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."

The researcher Dr. Aung Than at NTU's School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, conducted experiments which showed that the patch could suppress weight gain in mice that were fed a high-fat diet and reduce their fat mass by over 30%, over a period of four weeks. The treated mice also had significantly lower blood cholesterol and fatty acids levels compared to the untreated mice.

It is exciting to be able to tackle obesity via the browning of white fat, and the results were promising, said Melvin Leow, associate professor at NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, "These data should encourage Phase I Clinical studies in humans to translate these basic science findings to the bedside, with the hope that these microneedle patches may be developed into an established cost-effective modality for the prevention or treatment of obesity in the near future."