Combining 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, has shown promise in laboratory trials as a new approach to reducing bulging tummy fat.
This innovative approach succeeded in reducing weight gain in mice on a high fat diet and their fat mass by more than 30% over four weeks, according the press release issued by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.
Developed by scientists at NTU, the new type of skin patch contains hundreds of micro-needles, each of them thinner than a human hair, which are loaded with the drug beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist or another drug called triiodothyronine, containing thyroid hormone T3. 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, which can then be removed.
The findings of the new study, which was recently published in the Small Methods journal, showed that the proposed approach 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.
According to the study, after the needles degrade the drug molecules, they slowly diffuse to the energy-storing white fat underneath the skin layer, to turn them into energy-burning brown fats that are found in babies. Brown fats also help in keeping the baby warm by burning energy. As humans grow older, the amount of brown fats lessens and is replaced with visceral white fats.
Xu Chenjie, co-author of the study who focuses on research in drug delivery systems, said that “embedding micro-needles 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.”
“The amount of drugs we used in the patch is much less than those used in oral medication or an injected dose. This lowers the drug ingredient costs while our slow-release design minimises its side effects,” Chenjie added.
Obesity is a major health risk factor for various diseases, and it results from an excessive accumulation of fat. The list of diseases which result from obesity includes heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes. About 1.9 billion adults in the world are overweight in 2016, with 650 million of them being obese, according to estimates of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Co-author of the study Chen Peng, a biotechnology expert who carries out research on obesity, said that the team aims to develop a painless patch that everyone could use easily, and to be unobtrusive and affordable. He added that their patch aims to use a person’s own body fats to burn more energy, which is a natural process in babies.
The team has also conducted experiments at NTU’s School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, 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 showed significantly lower blood cholesterol and fatty acid levels compared to the untreated mice.
Researchers estimate that their proposed patch had a material cost of about five Singaporean dollars, which equals $3.50, to produce. It contains a beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist combined with hyaluronic acid, a substance naturally found in the human body and commonly used in products like skin moisturisers.
Beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist is a drug approved by the Federal Drug Administration of the United States and is used to treat overactive bladders, while T3 triiodothyronine is a thyroid hormone commonly used for medication for an underactive thyroid gland, according to the study’s release.