JAN 04, 2018 07:04 AM PST
A Micro-Needle Patch for Weight Loss?
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The battle of the bulge is a daily struggle for some. No, not the World War II battle, but rather the fight so many wage every day against fat. Staying at a healthy weight is not always easy, but new research from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore might have developed the latest weapon.

It's a drug delivery system that uses tiny micro-needles on a skin patch to deliver medication. The research is significant for both the delivery of medicines and the drugs it administers. So far it's only been tested in mice. However, the patch and the drugs that are embedded in it are known to convert white fat into brown fat. As it turns out, not all fat in the body is the same. White fat serves as an insulator against cold temperatures, it's a cushion if you fall, and it's composed of only a single lipid droplet, with very little mitochondria. It doesn't do a whole lot except frustrate you when bathing suit season rolls around.

Brown fat, on the other hand, is much more efficient. It has a more plentiful blood supply, as well as much more iron-rich mitochondria and it does more than just sit around and torment your wardrobe efforts. It burns calories. Brown fat, of course, is preferable to any other kind of fat. It's abundant in newborn babies because rather than just insulating babies against the cold, it burns calories and this energy keeps a baby warm. The patch developed at NTU is aimed at fighting obesity by turning white fat into brown fat, and hopefully burning calories and leading to weight loss.

The patch is small and covered in hundreds of micro-needles that are drenched in Beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist or another drug called thyroid hormone T3 triiodothyronine. These medications are being researched as a way to turn the somewhat troublesome white fat into brown fat, which could help shed pounds. In the trials at NTU, the results in mice who were on a high-fat diet were encouraging.

The patch is easy to use. It's pressed into the skin, and after a few minutes, the micro-needles detach from the underside and stay in the skin, delivering the medicine. The device, which is just a cloth covering with some adhesive, is easily removed. The needles don't have to come out; they are biodegradable, and, while attached, do an excellent job of delivering medication.

Skin patches are used to deliver medication in many other applications, from smoking cessation drugs, to painkillers. In the micro-needle stick-ons developed at NTU, once the needles have disintegrated, the drug seeps into the body and begins to convert fat. In the mice used in the study, even though they were fed a high-fat diet, they did not gain as much weight as typical mice on the same diet. Also, the fat in their bodies began to brown after just five days, and the existing fat mass in their bodies was reduced by more than 30% over four weeks.

In a press release, Assistant Professor Xu Chenjie, an author of the study explained, "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. 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 minimizes its side effects."

The study was published in the journal Small Methods. With the rising problem of obesity and the detrimental health effects it can cause, a delivery system of medication that can help patients lose weight and burn fat could undoubtedly be a game-changer. Check out the video below for additional information.


Sources: Nanyang Technological University, Small Methods, Women's Health Magazine, The Independent 

  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.

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